The marketing role of coffee/tea and snacks

There's some end of the week fun going on in the Time Out discussion on coffee, tea and biscuits. Some members don't really offer them because they want to discourage clients from hanging around the office. But others go the whole hog with espresso machines, good quality tea and even home-baked cupcakes.

So - what does your snack provision say about your firm, and how important can small hospitality details like this be to differentiating your firm and its services? Have you ever put much thought into the subject, and if so, what returns do you think you have reaped?

(And in the true spirit of TGIF, perhaps you could come join the conversation and recommend your most effective drink/snack combination).

Comments
PUREaccountants's picture

I have often wondered

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

that if you could actually make your office inviting how much more business would you get. 

We have just moved into our new office - well old cowshed actually - with trough for proof. It's great. High ceilings, beams and spiders to boot. We're trying to make it as inviting as we can so that clients can actually stick around. 

I guess to keep them here (apart form the beautiful views, quietness of old farm buildings and of course ourselves) should we invest in decent coffee, tea and homemade cake.

Perhaps we will initiate this as a new trial. Interestingly I purchased Steve Pipes "UK's best accountancy practices", some of whom actually implement such tactics!

My experience

HudsonCo | | Permalink

I offer decent coffee and tea made in a pot but usually my husband has eaten any cakes or biscuits

I like to make clients feel welcome and comfortable and as if they can trust me to take all their pains away. A friend describes her accountant as more like a trip to the dentist and dreads it each year. I wonder if this is why some firms have a major problem with late SA tax returns each year?

Scheduled meetings are allowed to drift (within reason) as I believe this is what clients value more than the form filling. If clients call in unannounced to drop something off then I turn them around faster unless I have some spare time.

How does this benefit me? Most accountants seem to have around 50% conversion rate for new clients whereas mine is around 80%. We also get very good feedback via our annual satisfaction surveys. Most of them don't know whether I'm a good accountant or not but they use these little signs to decide whether we look like a professional outfit or a dodgy backstreet whatever.

Satisfied clients=more referrals and higher fees

John Stokdyk's picture

Some nice points, thanks

John Stokdyk | | Permalink

Though this thread started from a light-hearted digression on Mark Lee's SA marketing article, I'm glad to see that you've both come forward with useful points to explore.

I've also heard things from AVN and others about accountants going out of their way to make clients feel valued, including one practitioner who finds out what his clients' favourite songs are and plays the tunes on the office juke box when they are waiting for meetings.

Spending a few pounds extra on nice drinks and snacks doesn't seem too controversial, but the next question is: can you calculate what such care and attention to detail achieves in terms of client satisfaction and retention, and is there a point where it might become too expensive to maintain, or even a little creepy?

dialm4accounts's picture

Make clients feel loved

dialm4accounts | | Permalink

This is exactly what Paddi Lund http://www.paddilund.com/content/view.asp? talks about - he calls this level of detail the "Critical Non-Essentials".

Put yourself in your client's shoes.  If you go to visit your accountant, which would you rather have:

1) tea in a fine bone china cup with a home-made biscuit or cupcake, and even better if the accountant had your favourite brand of tea, or

2) to be pointed at a Klix machine and a plate of stale Rich Teas?

1) would make you feel as though your accountant valued you as a person, not just as a customer, and make you much more likely to trust your accountant with your finances and willingly pay them your hard-earned cash.

Think about what clients want - they notice the "little things"!

M

PUREaccountants's picture

I too read that

PUREaccountants | | Permalink

John, yes I read that one provided a red carpet and their favourite music. There's being a fine host there's another being sycophantic. 

Wondering how we could measure this successfully. If I come up with the "teaometer" conversion chart I'll let you know.

Funny you should mention it    1 thanks

HudsonCo | | Permalink

I have just been working this out as a little bit of light relief for a Friday afternoon.

If my current conversion rate is 80% and the average accountant is 50% then I would need to increase my marketing spend by an extra 60% per client if I did things the average way. Even if all my enquiries came from referrals I would need to spend time seeing 60% more prospects to convert the same number into clients.

There would probably also be a negative impact on average fee per client partly offset by the miniscule savings of moving to a cheaper brand of coffee.

 

 

Old Greying Accountant's picture

On the other hand ..

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... do you choose your car repairer, dentist, electrician, plumber, etc etc by the coffee and biscuits they give you. As many oint out we are business people first, accountants second.

An accountant is a very personal role, many accountants know more about their client than their wife does and surroundings don't make a jot of difference, it is the rapport between accountant and client, especially if they already like you as they have been referred.

Yes it is nice to be spoiled, but not a deal breaker. May be the ones who get a higher conversion rate do so because they are the "right" sort of person (and they are offering the good coffee/homemade cake because that is an extension of that "right" personality?). I would hazard the decision that they like and trust you is made at the greeting handshake - before tea and coffee are even on the agenda!

If they get the tea of coffee whilst waiting to see you, I would think it likely they don't even notice as meeing an accountant is stressful for most people, and a warm friendly people person receptionist would make more impression. Generally I would decline refreshment at a first meeting of this sort as it just adds to the stress wondering where to put he cup, worrying about dropping crumbs (or if like the Bucket's neighbour whether you are going to spill it everywhere). 

bencooper's picture

Old post, different day (and year..)

bencooper | | Permalink

I raised this on AW some 4 years ago

Original thread: http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/its-friday-has-corporate-hospi...

When as a, then, salesman I had been without a cuppa on client premises for some 3 weeks.

Gordon Brown had only just moved from number 11 and so I assumed at that point the wiley old so and so had taxed refreshements in the workplace.

Then today I see this post...Clearly things have not improved.

In a bid to ensure I never go without again, I started my own business in the hope that 'Director' was more deserving of a cuppa than 'salesman' and so I could be sure that I could at least get a cuppa in the office when I get back from meetings! Yes... I now make my own!

Old Greying Accountant's picture

A salesman ....

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... is a bit different from a client!

I always offer salesmen a drink as their job is always to be moving round out of the office.

All a client has to do is come from their own work place, see you and then return to their workplace - a very different scenario. If they choose to do other things on the way to and fro that is up to them, but not a given!

Its all well and good if you have staff to make tea and coffee for them, I don't, so of their free hour consultation do they really want me to waste 10 minutes making them a drink whilst they sit in embarrassed silence twiddling their thumbs?

ShirleyM's picture

Subliminal messages

ShirleyM | | Permalink

Is the offer of expensive coffee, and home made cake giving out the right signals anyway?

What happens if circumstances dictate that you don't have time to make the cake? You have to be consistent, or clients will feel cheated the first time you don't have home made cake available!

The only place I am ever offered a cuppa is car showrooms, and considering how much you are potentially spending I think it is justified.

I suppose it all boils down to how often clients visit you, and how often you would like them to visit you. If it's only once a year then it is probably good to fuss around them a little if you want to encourage the visits to be more frequent, but do you want to extend the length of the visits if they are already frequent?

I also think it gives out a wrong message. That message being that you are willing to wait on clients and pander to them, and you do have time to sit & chat.

Maybe it's the cynic in me, but if an accountant gave me top class coffee and home made cakes I would be questioning why, and whether I was paying too much! Maybe once they get to know you they then see this is just pure hospitality and nothing more, but then that can give out the 'I'll bend over backwards for you' message, and a lot of people will take advantage of that!

Each to their own, but I'll stick with efficiency, and let them have their cuppa's elsewhere if it's that important to them.

andrewdiver's picture

I recall at a larger

andrewdiver | | Permalink

I recall at a larger accountancy firm there was a national directive that biscuits were not to be served at meetings.  We serve a nice up of tea/coffee and where appropriate will provide biscuits.  This is a matter of discretion, usually for the more elderly who appreciate them or if we anticipate the meeting to run to a few hours to provide some sustenance. 

Essentially we serve a cup of tea/coffee we believe would be consistent with what they might have at home.  Not ridiculously expensive, just reasonable quality.  It is all part of making them feel comfortable. 

I would differentiate between accountants and advisors.  Accountants who seek to have short meetings to be more functional (not tea & definitely no biscuits!).  An advisor wants to know more about the individual or the business because it is the areas outside the obvious or the statutory requirements where they earn their crust.  

So tea/coffee/biscuits often depends on whether you are there to product a product such as a set of accounts or a tax return or whether you are looking to help/advise someone more broadly. 

dbowleracca's picture

I think it's important

dbowleracca | | Permalink

A cup of tea or coffee or still or sparkling water or fresh orange juice is the minimum our clients get offered, or prospects.

We also offer biscuits where the meeting is around 11am or 3pm - on the basis that they'll probably be a bit peckish.

If we have clients in for strategy meetings or vision days etc, we always provide lunch too.

We do this because customer service is our top priority, and we aim to be different and better than the rest.

I agree with OGA though - wouldn't be able to do this without a reliable secretary!

Nothing unless they ask or it's going to be a looong meeting

Ken Howard | | Permalink

I've never been into gimmicks.  When I go to see my solicitor, or GP, or whoever, I don't get offered a drink.  I've got a jar of Nescafe and some PG Tips - the only added benefits will be sugar and milk, and maybe a clean cup!!!

Same with premises.  I've actually got a semi-basement office, with low roof, limited natural light and a manky loo.

But do you know something?  I have a very loyal client base and barely ever find clients leave to go elsewhere and even when they do, I have a good idea as to reason, and it's never that they don't like my office or don't get a coffee.

At the end of the day, that kind of thing wouldn't impress me when I go to consult other professionals.  I concentrate on giving good advice, having lots of contact with the clients throughout the year, and preparing their accounts and returns within weeks (if not days) rather than months.  It works for me! 

Accounting_help's picture

Basic

Accounting_help | | Permalink

We consider one of the basic things to offer clients/potential clients tea, coffee or water. Its not that taxing to do. It may not be the most important for the potential client but its a nice way to start a meeting.

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