Is the customer always right?
Well, maybe not always correct. But their experience has a lot of influence over the health and the growth of your firm and team. Not only does your customer help you keep the lights on, but they also talk and work with you and your team members every day.
Let’s take some time to look at how managing relationships with your clients can help you become a better firm owner, grow your firm, and create a great place to work for your team.
Why Relationship Management Saves Firm Owners Time and Money
Time is money. Whether you’re short staffed or overwhelmed with work requests, there never seems to be enough time in the day. But rather than try to fix these problems with short-term fixes, like hiring a handful of temporary employees or freelancers to help with the workload, you may find yourself with a whole new set of problems fast.
At the center of everything you do as an accounting firm owner are your customers. So it’s imperative that you create your own method of client relationship management for your firm to ensure you have happy clients, motivated employees, and get the chance to live the life you want to live as a business owner.
Client Service vs. Customer Relations
Customer service is most often reactive and assigned to a department or specific team member to respond to customer problems, issues, or questions. There are ways to be proactive with customer service, such as by providing an FAQ or Knowledge Base section on your website or app for common questions, new product or service features, step-by-step guides, or ways of conducting business with you and your team.
In contrast, the term client relations encompasses the full client experience with your firm and includes both proactive and reactive tasks and functions. To manage your firm’s relationships with clients, it’s important to consider each touchpoint, conversation, and interaction your client has with your firm from the lens of how it serves them and accomplishes their goals or meets their needs.
Benefits of Becoming a Pro at Managing Client Relationships
OK, we have to say it. Happy clients make for happy bottom lines.
Well, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule; however, it’s a pretty good generalization. Competition is fierce; the number of companies competing on customer experience has nearly doubled since 2015. Customers expect more than ever before and have only become choosier with how they spend their hard-earned dollars.
So here are a few ways your firm will benefit from client relations improvements:
- Increased client retention and loyalty
- Good outcomes could lead to testimonials from clients you can use in marketing
- Less employee turnover
- Less day-to-day oversight on projects or recurring work
Make Client Management Skills a Priority in Your Accounting Firm in 5 Simple Steps
In service-based industries, client relationships are important. Every touchpoint and conversation contributes to the overall customer experience with your firm, and it’s not something that can be easily compartmentalized or assigned to a specific department to handle completely.
Instead, client management and relationships should be the center of all that you and your team do and should be infused into the training programs from day one on the team and beyond.
Here are a few steps to help you accomplish this goal:
Step 1: Hire people with customer service experience.
If you’re deciding between two candidates for a job and find any retail or food service experience on only one of the resumes, then go with the one with customer service experience. They already have a lot of those soft skills you’ll need to ensure your clients receive excellent service, such as a positive attitude, smiles that can be heard over the phone, and a can-do motivation to tackle issues.
Step 2: Train your staff to take care of clients.
Once you’ve hired a great team, you want to make sure to train them to meet your expectations. Give them the tools they need to understand their list of accounts and the business processes. Be sure to update the training materials periodically and have an annual training schedule to keep seasoned team members fresh.
Step 3: Put the client relationship at the center of all workflows, activities, and communications.
When companies make an effort to improve their customer experience, 84 percent of those companies drive an increase in revenue. Rather than assigning customer service to a department or person on your team, think about the customer experience in all you do. For example, this could include automated workflows for clients during the onboarding process or first 30 days, so they can sign paperwork electronically or receive automated notifications to complete certain steps.
Step 4: Set goals and reward your team’s efforts.
Employees are motivated by many things, like achievement, recognition, intrinsic motivation to do a good job, and tangible rewards. To keep your team on track and motivated to manage client relationships well, keep track of key performance indicators (KPIs) related to great customer service (answering issues quickly, work completed on time, etc.), set goals throughout the year, and tie their performance evaluations to these metrics. Reward your team in many ways, like performance-based bonuses, profit sharing, retention goal rewards, and other contests.
Step 5: Lead by example.
Your team looks up to you, for better or worse. This means they will take cues from you as to what is acceptable at work. So be sure to exemplify a customer-focused approach in your interactions with your team and clients alike.
4 Keys to Success for Effective Customer Relationships
Building and maintaining effective customer relationships is key to achieving your long-term business goals. But if you’re spending too much time in the weeds of your day-to-day tasks, you might not dedicate enough time to nurturing these bonds. If this sounds like you, read on for four keys to foster fruitful customer relationships with your accounting clients.
- Communicate Clearly
Effective communication is necessary for strengthening any relationship, but it’s especially critical to building strong customer relationships. If you communicate with your clients clearly and helpfully, they’ll come to know and trust you—positioning you for further business down the line.
- Meet for Coffee
Living in a distanced, virtual world has made us all crave connection more. So maybe this isn’t actually a coffee break. But adding a personal connection or check-in in your way with your client will go a long way.
So, whether it’s a lunch on Zoom, a Donut meeting via Slack, or at a socially-distanced outdoor café, make time for face time with your clients. This face-to-face interaction, even if it’s virtual, can deepen trust with your customers. Plus, they’ll appreciate that you’ve taken the time to check in with them and their needs.
- Be Authentic
We’re all in the same boat. In the same way you hope to receive excellent care from your children’s babysitter or the rental property manager for your family vacation, you appreciate honesty and managing expectations. If the babysitter noticed one kid wasn’t feeling well, you’d want to know. By being your authentic self and relating to clients on a personal level, you’ll forge bonds that will keep customers coming back to your firm time and time again.
- Ask for Feedback
Don’t shy away from feedback—welcome it with open arms. You never know which piece of feedback will turn into a game changer for your business. Surveys are a great tool that can be incorporated into workflow automations at certain points in your contract with your clients. Additionally, you can ask a customer for a testimonial to use in your marketing materials.
Customer Relationships Made Easier with Client Management Software
It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day operations of your accounting firm. But you’re only stunting your firm’s growth potential and stealing time you could be spending on vacation or at home with your family.