Accountants have a distinct advantage over most other service professionals. Your clients need your help on an ongoing basis, at least once a year and often more frequently than this.
When we discuss the lifetime value of clients at meetings of The Inner Circle for Accountants we have to consider how long a typical client stays with their accountant. The answer can vary from two to ten plus years.
What has the biggest influence on your ability to retain clients? Some accountants think it’s their willingness to keep their fees low. I certainly disagree. Clients don’t always move to get a cheaper service. And when they do there is normally another catalyst.
Another view is that it’s all down your accounting skills and the quality of your service. To doing a good job. I don’t think that’s the full story either. And I think it’s too easy to kid yourself if you focus here in isolation. I have seen plenty of accountants hang on to clients even after there have been mistakes, errors or oversights.
This gives us a clue as to the what is the biggest influence on your ability to retain clients.
I firmly believe that the biggest influence of your ability to retain clients is whether they appreciate that you care about them.
This ability requires you to demonstrate a number of key business skills. Firstly empathy.
It’s not enough that you think you care about your clients. The question is whether they appreciate this. How well do you evidence that you care like you say you do?
A key part of the empathy you need to be able to evidence here is that you recognise that each client may want and need a different approach. They have different preferences and priorities. It also requires you to ask appropriate open questions, listen to the answers and to adapt your style, service and approach accordingly.
When something goes wrong, then, if you really care about your client, you will need to demonstrate your emotional intelligence. In this context this means being honest and open and asking the client how they would want you to make amends so that you can show you care enough to get things sorted to their satisfaction.
Let’s go back for a moment and consider why clients choose to change accountants. In every survey and straw poll I have ever seen, and those I have run myself, the overriding reason for dissatisfaction is the client’s perception that their old accountant didn’t care about them.
An analogy might be helpful here.
Do you give every client who comes to a meeting with you a black coffee, no sugar and no milk? NO. You ask them what they would like to drink. You give them a choice. If enough people start asking for herbal tea, you get some in so that you don’t disappoint anyone else.
I’ve heard some firms who even have a client’s favourite drink ready when they arrive. Brilliant. It shows you care about what they like to drink.
In the same way accountants who want to reduce churn need to ask clients more about their preferences, priorities and previous experiences. Then you can show you care when serving them and advising them.
You need to show you care enough by everyone on the team knowing what is required in this regard by each client. Not just what they like to drink.