What does giving clients ‘added value’ really mean?

Jun 28, 2022 | Client service, Sole practitioners

I first wrote about this in 2012 when I explained that I don’t believe that accountants’ clients really want ‘added value’. Heresy? No. It’s just I’m not a big fan of buzzwords. I believe it’s more helpful to think about what anyone means when they say they want ‘added value’.

Typically what accountants’ clients want is to feel that the fees they are paying are good value for the service they receive. As we used to say, they want: ‘value for money’.

Sometimes accountants attempt to show how reasonable their fees are by flagging all the ‘extras’ they provide at no additional cost. As long as the client appreciates the value of such extras, this can help the sale. Sadly, whilst this may work with clients who are switching accountants, it is less easy to convince those who are appointing their first ever accountant. They have no frame of reference to distinguish your offering from that of other accountants whom they assume all do the same things in the same way.

Adding value is partly a state of mind as well as ‘going beyond the norm’

Your approach might include things such as putting yourself out to benefit the client, effecting introductions to prospective customers and helping clients with something that is otherwise unrelated to your recurring compliance focused services. Anything in fact that adds value in the client’s mind over and above what they used to get from your predecessor and distinct from the services they have contracted you to provide.

You should note that ‘added value’ only counts if the client acknowledges a real (or perceived) need for that particular aspect of the your services.

This is a key point. Each client (and prospective client) will have differing needs and priorities. Almost by definition, you need to add value to your promised services to satisfy the implied promise of ‘added value’. And the value you add must be noticed and perceived as beneficial by the prospect or client to whom you talk about it.

Here’s an example of how it doesn’t always work well.

I am aware that some accountants offer clients a menu giving them a choice of different coffees and drinks in their office. Do clients really appreciate this or consider it as ‘added value’? Or is it simply seen as quirky and nice but not necessary? And is it even cost effective? Let’s just say I don’t think it would work for everyone.

Focusing on ‘value’ is key
Any reference you make to offering added value probably helps reinforce the idea that you are providing quality services that have value. This is quite distinct from the more common attitude of focusing on low-priced commodity services. Anyone can undercut your fees. They can’t all provide a comparable level of valued service.

Many clients, certainly those that have the best potential for more than basic compliance services, are just as interested in the relationship you build with them. They will appreciate the feeling that you are there for them when needed and that you are interested, committed and involved in their plans and business growth.

Different clients want different things and the key is to find out what’s important to each one and then to start by doing whatever you can to satisfy those needs and wants. If you can go further and ‘add value’ too, that’s great.

The good news is that most prospective clients have pretty simple needs. They want to meet regularly; to be able to contact you easily; to have fees agreed upfront; to feel it’s a business partnership, not a supplier/customer relationship. But asking them what they value is key here. That, in itself , evidences your commitment rather than you making assumptions and not having the discussion with each client.

What do you do beyond just turning up and doing the bare minimum?

It has long been the case that some value adds are simply a case of rethinking and repackaging elements of your service that might otherwise be ignored. For example, what do you do as standard that other accountants might not include as part and parcel of their service?

So your ‘added value’ could be what you do that makes your fees seem low relative to the total value that you provide the client.

Do check the websites of other accountants to see if your assertions re what makes you distinct are real or imaginary. Are you simply offering the same ‘added value’ as everyone else?

Added value is different to additional billable services

By definition any added value you offer is quite distinct from any additional services for which you charge a fee. Over time I have been able to help a number of my mentoring clients recognise where they may be providing added value to their clients – as in a service level beyond that of most other accountants.

There is an implied consequence of this focus on providing ‘added value’. It is fine for your existing clients but more challenging with new clients as it will only be apparent when they know how much they will be paying for all your services.

Somehow I think you would lose goodwill if you attempted to justify a higher than expected fee by referencing all of the added value you provided without charge. When that happens you are effectively asking the client to value such additional services. So they are not value adds at all.

The extras I provide as part of my mentoring service often only become apparent after a few calls. But I have referenced them in passing as part of the ‘Mark two’ and ‘Mark three’ mentoring options set out on my website here >>>

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