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Tracy Crevar Warren
 

Love ’Em! or Lose ’Em!

Seven tactics to developing loyal clients for life.

February 14, 2011
by Tracy Crevar Warren

This Valentine’s Day, as you remember all those who are special to you, don’t forget your beloved clients. In fact, showing them a little extra love this year may be more important than ever. An estimated 36 percent of business clients will consider a new CPA in the coming year according to the 2010 CCH Accounting Firm Client Survey and another firm has already prospected one out of two (55%) of them.

As busy season kicks into high gear, these startling statistics remind us just how critical it is to dote on our clients. With competition heating up, your precious clients may be tempted to leave you for another CPA firm to satisfy their ever-increasing demands for accounting-related services. As a result, you may be saying goodbye to valued relationships that you’ve built tirelessly.

Bottom line? Client service and retention must be a major focus for practitioners and it must start now.

Show Some Love Before It’s Too Late

Business may be anything but normal this year, as clients demand more due to recent economic woes. More, more, more! Clients want it all these days. More attention, greater value, more information, greater efficiency, better use of technology and more tax breaks. Forty-five percent of business clients also want more services. Good news, if you can retain them and provide the additional services they want.

Wow, that’s a lot of pressure for practitioners, as many feel stretched to their limits. So what’s an overworked professional to do at this critical juncture?

For starters, a little TLC can go a long way in an environment in which client service is at all-time lows. More than just technical expertise, clients want to know they’re important to you and your firm. Many organizations brag about their excellent client service. Unfortunately recent stats tell a different tale. Going forward, client loyalty will require more than lip service. It’s about demonstrating how much you care in ways that are meaningful to the client.

Seven Proven Tactics to Lasting Loyalty

Just as in any relationship, retaining devoted clients requires an ongoing commitment of time and focused effort. To gain their lasting loyalty, use these seven proven tactics. You’ll be glad to know they’re inexpensive and easy to implement.

  1. Make Client Service and Retention a Top Priority in Your Firm Every Day. Although this philosophy is likely a given in your firm, revisit your commitment. Talk with your staff about it. Help them understand that a third of your clients may consider switching CPA firms this year. Let them know that everyone on the team plays an important role in your clients’ satisfaction. Ensure each person on your team knows exactly what they’re expected to do take care of your precious clients.
  2. Say the “L” Word. Don’t assume your clients know how important they are to you. Especially the ones who have been with you the longest. Tell them. Deliver the message with authenticity and sincerity. Canned messages are often forced. For example, you could say, “John, I want to let you know how important you and your business are to me and my firm. We value our relationship. Please know that we’re here to serve you and your continued needs.”
  3. Be Curiously Interested in Them. The top reason clients gave for why they were considering a switch — their current firm doesn’t check regularly on their changing needs. Don’t let this happen to you. It screams YOU DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT ME. You’ll also miss out on critical insight that can impact the guidance you provide. The best way to do this is simple, be curious. My doctor does this at the start of every visit – “Tracy, is there anything new we should discuss since our last visit?Make it a part of every client meeting to find out what’s new.
  4. Have Regular Dates With Key Clients. It’s easy to get swept up in your daily routine and miss the opportunity to get face-to-face with your clients throughout the year. To overcome this, have regular standing dates with your key clients outside the engagement. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly or semi-annually, find a time and a place that’s convenient to meet. If you’re a morning person, consider breakfast. No time for a meal, how about mid-morning or afternoon coffee? If you’re both fitness buffs, invite them to join you for a run or a workout.
  5. Touch Them Often. It’s important to stay in touch between client meetings. Each touch lets them know you’re thinking of them. Share information that affects them such as regulatory changes, industry trends, thought leadership and new firm services. Change your touches. Use articles, newsletters, white papers and blog posts. Touch them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Drop them a note to let you know you saw their name, their business or a family member or name in the news. Share items of personal interest, too. Today’s technology provides you with countless ways to stay in touch. Make sure they’re on your social media networks and distribution lists.
  6. Don’t Miss Important Deadlines. Efficiency and timeliness are essential to maintain strong client relationships. It says to your clients:“I care about you and I’m true to my word.” Early deliveries demonstrate an even stronger commitment. Let them know in advance in the rare occasion you find yourself unable to meet a critical deadline, then, do everything in your power to meet the new deadline.  Never wait until the last minute.
  7. A Penny for Their Thoughts. Developing loyalty also requires you to know how you’re doing in your client relationships. Are you providing the care and experienced guidance they’re looking for? Are you delivering the value they’re seeking? Are you meeting their changing needs? The CCH Study also showed that less than half (48 percent) of business clients reported receiving formal client satisfaction surveys from their firms in the past year. Whether you measure client success with a formal survey or simply poll clients at the end of each engagement, it’s important to gauge whether you’re measuring up to their expectations. Many practitioners shy away from this step due to fear of what they might learn. With more than a third looking to make the switch, isn’t it better to know the score, so you can do something about it before it’s too late?

Don’t Put Off What You Can Start Today

This Valentine’s Day, make sure to remember your beloved clients. Let them know how important they are to you and your firm throughout the year. Start now. They’re counting on you. If not, they may be counting on someone else soon.

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. She has just finished working on her first book, Bull's-Eye! The Ultimate How-to Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs produced by the AICPA and AAM. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com. If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice, visit her new blog.