Quality client service is a hugely important part of a successful CPA firm, but delivering it can be a big challenge. Many tax and accounting professionals prefer to focus on their skills with dollars and cents while so-called soft skills like client communication and relationship building are often an afterthought. As you plan for the future of your firm, don’t forget to factor client service into your business strategy and the training and development of firm leaders. Here are a few myths to consider when developing a plan for better client service.
Myth 1: Client documents tell you everything you need to know about your clients
CPA firms know a great deal of sensitive information about their clients based on the tax and accounting work they perform, but many pieces of information either do not get communicated or are not stored in a way that makes them useful to everyone in the firm. For example, many firms know client line of business, but do not track the information in a reportable way. The firms has no way of finding out which industry concentrations they serve, much less which niches are most profitable. Another embarrassing error is when a fee is agreed upon in advance of a project, but that information isn’t communicated at the time of billing. Invoicing for a higher amount than the client expects leads to mistrust between you and your client. In some cases, you invoice for a lower amount, depriving the firm of additional revenue. Make sure you are collecting as much information as possible at client intake, updating that information regularly and communicating client notes effectively throughout your system.
Myth 2: Your clients will ask for help when they need it
Reality Check: Your clients may not know when they need help. Many clients remain blissfully unaware of potential problems until it’s too late to do anything about them. If they are aware of problems, their CPA is sometimes the last person they’ll approach for help, fearing unknown fees that they assume will be too costly to be worthwhile. In fact, if you are only seeing your clients once or twice a year for a tax engagement, they probably don’t view you as a business consultant and a partner since you aren’t top of mind until tax time comes around. Change that perception of you and your business – build a business partner relationship, not just the guy or gal that prepares their tax return each year and disappears.
Myth 3: Your clients are paying for your expertise
Your professional expertise is an important part of your client relationships, but what your clients are actually paying you for is trust and peace of mind. Your client relationships are more about the value you provide to them and their businesses than your personal credentials. You know this relationship is breaking down when your clients start to question your value and balk at your fees. Fee pressure is a good sign that you need to be more proactive about identifying your clients’ pain points and showing them how you can provide the peace of mind that they will gladly pay for.
Building more meaningful client relationships
The key to developing more meaningful client relationships is to start by building a solid foundation of knowledge about who your clients are. You should have a policy in place to collect certain specific client information in a central database, as well as a plan to keep that information up to date. Once you know who your clients are, you can analyze the type of work you’re doing for them so you can identify additional services they may benefit from.
Lastly, your strategy must include a plan for communicating your value to your clients. Move beyond the transactional relationship of the once a year tax engagement to a more collaborative approach. Your clients will be happier when they are more engaged with the services you provide.
For more information on how technology decisions affect your firm’s client service, download our whitepaper: The Managing Partner’s Guide to Building a Future-Ready Firm: Translating Operational Efficiencies into Dollars.