What type of service guarantees do accountants offer?

Oct 17, 2023 | Business development, Business Strategy, Client service

Let’s be realistic. If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?

I hope you wouldn’t even consider trying to charge extra to resolve a mistake of your own making. To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients. And may end up being the key factor that results in clients choosing the firm which offers an overt guarantee.

When accountants ask me how they can distinguish themselves from their immediate competition, I remind them that whilst the work output may be much the same (in terms of accounts and tax returns), the service, style, approach and fees may be very different. They will all be impacted by the accountant’s background, experiences, preferences, challenges, choices, struggles, ambitions and so on.

I have also encouraged many accountants to consider introducing a service guarantee as this is a proven way to attract more clients as it reduces their perception of the risk of choosing the wrong accountant.

This approach is not right for everyone of course – much depends on your existing and target clients. As I explain at the the of this post, I have long offered risk-free guarantees, but I am aware that my clients are accountants and perhaps therefore less likely to exploit such a guarantee than some other groups.

But, when we go beyond the bare minimum implied in my opening comments above, there are plenty of ways you can offer an effective service guarantee.

The starting point in each case depends on how confident you are in the level of service you can consistently provide across your client base.

Typically when accountants resist the idea of offering a detailed service guarantee they also admit that they can’t deliver service at that level (yet).

My advice is to only ever guarantee a level of service that you have confidence you will provide (most of the time).

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on an increasing number of accountant’s websites. I have shared 8 distinct examples below.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective these messages might be if one accountant offers this and another does not.

Sometimes these guarantees appear as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’ In other cases they may be on a page that references fees. And, in some cases, they have their own link direct from the home page.

Example 1 (this is probably the simplest and least risky approach for the accountant)

  • Our service guarantee: We’re [qualified and regulated] so you can rest assured that we’ll keep you safe and out of trouble.
    However, if you do ever receive a penalty from HMRC or Companies House, and it’s our fault, we’ll pay it; that’s how confident we are in our service!

Example 2 (this one goes a little further)

  • Our risk-free guarantee: If you [become a client] and you’re not completely satisfied with our “everything done for you” service within the first 30 days, then let us know and we will refund your fee*. [There is then some small print that qualifies this]

Example 3 (a simple fixed fee guarantee)

  • We agree fixed fees upfront so you never get an unexpected bill.
  • Worried that you will get an unexpected bill from us out of the blue? We will give you a fixed fee up front before we start. We will never do work that we haven’t agreed with you beforehand and if we do, you don’t need to pay us for it!

Example 4 (variations of this appear on multiple firms’ websites)

  • Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.
  • Here it is…
  • If at any time you are not completely happy with our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment. That means…
  • No small print;
  • No quibbles;
  • No questions asked;
  • No exceptions;
  • No strings.

I think this is very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

Example 5 (this one follows on after promises as regards response times)

  • If you believe that we have failed to meet this guarantee please send an email to [us] within 21 days of the alleged failure and, subject to the failure being upheld, we will arrange for £50.00 to be transferred into your account. We regret that we are unable to consider alleged failures outside of this time frame.
    Compensation payments will be limited to £50.00 per calendar day on which any failure(s) allegedly occurred.

This shows a high level of confidence that the firm will respond as promptly as they promise. But I can’t help feeling that the wording could be more client friendly.

Example 6 (as part of a 7 point service guarantee)

  • We Guarantee to regularly advise you on how you can save Tax.
    We Guarantee to charge you an agreed in advance ‘Fixed Fee’ each year, with no hidden extras.
    We Guarantee to proactively review your Tax affairs to help save you Tax.
    We Guarantee to submit all your Tax Returns on time – so if you’ve provided your records in good time we won’t let you down.
    We Guarantee to assign to you either an AAT qualified or Chartered Accountant member of our Team who will always be your point of contact with us.
    We Guarantee we will always take your call when you phone us or call you back as a matter of priority.
    We Guarantee to carry out extensive accuracy checks on your Tax Returns so you keep on the right side of the Tax man.
    and if we fail?….
    We’ll completely waive all your Tax Return Fees for that year. Yes, that’s right, we will complete your Tax return for that year, absolutely free of charge!

Example 7

  • I have also seen many ‘service guarantees’ that contain a list of service promises but no explanation of the ‘guarantee’ itself. I tend to think these are less valuable than genuine guarantees.

Example 8

And lastly, perhaps the least convincing approach I’ve seen on an accountant’s website:

  • A ‘no quibble guarantee’ that makes no reference to service levels or to fees and doesn’t explain what it means.

Again, the accountant probably knows what they intend it to mean but that’s rarely good enough.

Conclusion
Plenty of accountants publicly promote their service guarantees. And those that don’t would probably also ‘do the right thing’ if they were to mess up. In most cases the fear you might have of being called out on such a guarantee is probably worth the risk as the guarantee probably helps attract more clients than you might do without it.

I have long offered a risk-free money-back guarantee to attract sole practitioner accountants to join my Sole Practice Club. I used to do the same when I ran The Inner Circle. And I’ve long offered such a guarantee for my seminars and webinars.

In ten years I don’t think I have never had anyone request their money-back. And, even I did, I am 100% confident that the cost of refunding one odd person is far lower than the additional income generated from people who join or book because I removed the risk of them doing so.

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