According to the 2009 AICPA PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues survey (http://tinyurl.com/ydx8alr), the most significant concern facing CPA firms today is client retention. This is certainly a shift from previous years, where the quest to find and retain talent were the top concerns of the profession. Clearly, this is due to the recession, increasing competition and clients focusing on value more than ever before.
So, what does it really take to retain clients?
At ConvergenceCoaching, we’ve had the privilege of surveying clients on behalf of our CPA and IT firm clients. Based on what we’ve learned in these surveys, and based on our own experience, these are the things that matter most to your clients:
• You have to care about me and your care has to be evident. I cannot tell you how many times clients have said in surveys, “I wish my CPA would call me out of cycle – for no reason – to check in on me or my business.” Consider calling the top 20% of your clients for no reason and just check in. See if you can be of service. Show you care.
• Know me. Ask your clients questions to take your relationship deeper. Study and read about their businesses and other businesses like theirs. Send them links to interesting articles or information about things they’ve told you they care about – personally or professionally. Illustrate that you understand them and their needs.
• Be accessible and responsive. Clients know they are important when you make yourself available to them. Establish a firm-wide commitment for client response to e-mail and voice mail (typically by close of next business day or 24-hours) and discuss the importance of responsiveness to clients from the top down. When clients need you, be accessible and available – make it easy for them to work with you.
• Deliver what you committed and keep your word. When you make a commitment to a client, move heaven and earth to deliver it. If you cannot, reset expectations ahead of time and establish a new commitment – then keep it. Don’t avoid acknowledging missed commitments. Apologize honestly if you are unable to keep your word, ask if there is anything you can do to minimize the disruption and commit to do better next time.
• Make a difference and be different. Your clients want you to deliver real value. Value is a tricky concept and it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. I believe it comes down to your client feeling that you make a real difference for them in the services you provide. In compliance services, it’s sometimes hard to see how to do this – but you can. If you really know your client, their business and their industry, you can deliver valuable insights in your audit comments and provide them ideas to make them more competitive. If you understand your client’s life and business, you can provide them proactive tax savings advice and save them real money. In this economy, you can provide proactive assistance to clients by encouraging closer monitoring of A/R, assisting with the production of management reports to stay on top of cash flow and working with client bankers to ensure that they have the right financing in place. Clients don’t forget the difference you make for them when you deliver.
• Stay in front of me. It’s back to the top, so to speak. As competitors loom, stay in front of your clients with regular communications, e-mails, invitations, blog postings, newsletters and phone calls. See or talk to every key client at least monthly. Be as in touch with your clients as your competitors will be.
Quality clients don’t leave their CPA on the basis of fees alone. In fact, I’ll assert that money factors in only when the relationship isn’t valued and the difference you make isn’t evident. Who’s responsible for that?
The answer is, of course, you and your people are! The last idea I’ll leave you with on this subject (at least for this week) is that retaining clients has to be a cultural commitment. If you subscribe to the ideas outlined above:
• Take the time to ensure that your entire leadership team is modeling these behaviors.
• Allow staff people to “shadow” meetings and phone calls to see relationship development in action.
• Document your firm’s client service response time and accessibility guidelines and publish them to the entire firm (and if you’re really brave – let your clients know about your commitment, too!).
• Discuss retention ideas and strategies in firm-wide and department meetings regularly. Make sure people know that client retention is a core value.
What ideas do you have for retaining clients? What challenges are you facing? Please post a comment and share your thoughts on client retention. We welcome your insights!