Reduced taxes, greater efficiency, more insight, additional services -- clients want it all these days including a pot of gold at the end of each engagement. What’s worse is that over a third of your business clients may leave you if you don’t deliver the goods this busy season, according to the 2010 CCH Accounting Firm Client Survey. Are you ready for this type of loss? If you aren’t careful, you may need more than the luck o’ the Irish to rebound.
Although you and your team are working hard right now on your clients’ behalf, you may be falling short on fulfilling their individual expectations. As a result gaps can form between what clients expect from you and what you’re actually delivering. Many of these gaps develop unintentionally, but they may be putting your valuable client relationships in jeopardy without you realizing it.
Good news. It may not be too late to salvage client relationships in peril.
Try these four purposeful steps to help ensure you’re delivering the golden goods that your clients want:
- Deliver the Gold Personally. Make it standard practice to deliver the reports you have worked so hard to prepare for your clients in person. If you’re unable to get face-to-face due to logistical challenges, arrange for a telephone conference or Skype session. Don’t have the time? Think again. To you they may be just another report, but to your clients they demonstrate recent performance. Both yours and theirs. Your active involvement in presenting them is a must. Sounds like a no brainer, but it’s amazing how glossing over this simple step can widen expectation gaps and erode relationships.
Can you imagine how you would feel if you went to the doctor for an important procedure like an MRI or a CT scan and they left the report containing the results at the receptionist desk for you to claim. Perhaps their medical practice recently went paperless, so they e-mailed the results to you or posted them on their patient portal for you to claim along with a note “Please call me if you have any questions.” How would you feel? Would you know where to begin? Would it make you want to return to them in the future, much less refer others to them?
Unfortunately many CPAs approach this critical client meeting as an afterthought. Others miss out on this opportunity altogether by leaving reports at the front desk for pickup. Or they simply put them in the mail, in an e-mail or post them on the firm’s client-only section. Beware! These missteps can negate all the hard work you’ve done on your clients’ behalf. Not only does it say “I don’t really value you as a client,” it leaves them with many unanswered questions.
- Show Clients Where the Gold Is Stashed. Lead clients to the golden information tucked away in the reports you’ve prepared. For starters, walk them through the steps that you have taken during the engagement. This enables clients to understand how hard you have worked for them this tax season. Rather than burden them with technical details, give them a simple snapshot of your process and the sweat equity that went on behind the scenes. Be mindful that clients want to know what you’ve done to reduce their tax burdens and to ensure they are in compliance with the laws, especially the new ones. The way you communicate your efforts will demonstrate that you’re on top of what’s happening and how you’ve put the new laws to work for them.
Clients also want to know that you are operating as efficiently as possible. So help them to understand the latest technologies you and your firm are using, such as cloud computing or your new paperless process.
Now translate your hard work into results. Help clients understand each result you’ve helped them achieve. For example, “This year, there are 12 major areas in which your business achieved positive results.” Discuss how each affects them and their business. These detailed discussions are the real gold your clients want you to deliver at the end of the engagement.
Choose your words and actions wisely. What you do and say could mean the difference between a satisfied client who will tell their friends and those who will decide to consider another firm. Here are several actions you can take:
- Determine talking points in advance.
- Keep it simple and nontechnical.
- Help them make sense of the critical information.
- Help them understand the impact of each piece.
- Tie it back to their overall objectives.
- Reveal New Golden Nuggets. You’re almost done, but there’s more gold to be revealed. Clients want to know more than what their financial picture looks like this busy season. They want to learn what they can do to improve it and how you can help. Think that sounds too pushy for a practitioner? Think again. According to the CCH study, more than half (55%) of business clients indicated that their need for specialized services is growing and they are relying on you to provide insight.
To start this conversation, identify areas in which you uncovered new opportunities. Also outline where their business fell short. Describe the monetary and operational impacts of each. Then highlight the types of assistance you and your firm can provide and the benefits they can achieve from each additional service.
Bottom line? Clients are counting on you to help them. It’s no longer about simply doing the compliance-type work. Rather, it’s about using the knowledge you gain from these engagements to help them be more efficient, profitable. If not, your hard work is wasted and your lack of insight for improvement will lead to disappointed clients. As a result, they are likely to consider another advisor at the end of this year’s engagement. Not only will you have lost the opportunity to provide additional services to them, you may have lost the client altogether.
- Schedule Your Next Mining Expedition. Don’t let these golden opportunities slip away. Be proactive. Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss the golden nuggets in greater detail. Work to turn them into additional engagements. Your clients are relying on you to take the next steps in putting your insight to work for them. Do what you can now to help them achieve greater results in the future.
Put these four purposeful steps to work in ensuring you deliver the pots of gold that your clients want this busy season. Start now. The clock is ticking.
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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.