Right on the tail of the Welwyn Garden City-based contractor specialist was Cumbrian firm Oaktree Accountancy.
The two badge-winners are pioneers in AccountingWEB’s Client Satisfaction Recognition Scheme, an enhanced, on-going service that benchmarks firms’ service quality and customer satisfaction against our database of entrants to the Practice Excellence Awards.
As well as offering AccountingWEB’s congratulations, this article finds out a bit more about the firms and the secrets of their success.
Sarah Solo founded PaperRocket Accounting two years ago and admits she’s “still on the learning curve” when it comes to building up and developing her practice. But she’s definitely on the right track after gaining a 97% customer satisfaction rating from her clients.
“As we all know, no practice is perfect and there is always room for improvement, so the Client Satisfaction Recognition Scheme seemed liked the perfect way for our clients to have the opportunity to anonymously provide feedback on the level of service we provide,” she said.
PaperRocket got “some amazing feedback” and Sarah puts her success down to a simple formula: “Part of it is the tools and services you provide, but so much is based on the relationship you have with clients. One of my clients wrote in their feedback, ‘My accountant knows my name, my children’s names and what I’m doing at the weekend.’ They all get the support they need, especially if they’re just starting out and need a bit of handholding.”
But she is already looking at her client’s suggestions for improvement to see how she can enhance her service. “Not only did the detailed reports reassure us on all of the things we are getting right, it also highlighted areas clients would like us to adapt going forward to further streamline the way we work.”
Many of PaperRocket’s clients are freelance contractors, a sector that Sarah knows well after working for a larger specialst firm. As someone who has also set out on her own, Sarah understands their situation and caters for their needs using FreeAgent’s cloud accounting system.
“You’ve got to move with the times, and taking advantage of brilliant cloud software is the only way to do it. Clients just loved having that - and I don’t have to wait for them to send in receipts or spreadsheets,” she said.
Oaktree Accountancy’s Chris MacLeod is a longstanding advocate of measuring client satisfaction levels and used to do his own survey. “I felt clients wouldn’t be fully honest with me and wanted somebody objective to do my surveying. It definitely gets more people filling out survey forms than when I do it,” he said.
MacLeod entered Oaktree in last year’s Practice Excellence Awards and was pleased to discover a noticeable improvement in his overall rating from 94% to 98% this year, especially around the client ratings for flexibility and communication.
Chris says he did not make any major changes in the past year, but carried on with the same philosophy he has used since starting his firm.
“When I set up, I looked at why accounts lose clients. Whenever I win a client form another accountant or lose one, I ask myself why. It’s nearly always down to communication,” he said.
In one recent case, he was talking to a prospect who complained he couldn’t understand a £500 bill from his existing accountant. “My invoice would have said it was for an integral features claim that reduced his corporation tax by £15,000 - and I would have told the client that’s what I was doing. The accountant was doing a good job - but not communicating it,” said MacLeod.
“Every client gets rung up by me once a quarter - I make sure to stay in touch. Sometimes you do pick up people up who are thinking of leaving and can salvage the situation. When you lose or gain a client, it’s mostly down to misunderstandings or crossed wires.”
Like Sarah Solo at PaperRocket, Chris MacLeod is a sole practitioner, but is less interested in growing his firm. “I’m planning to grow by another 10-12% and am getting close to the limit I can reasonably service. I’ve got the money for what I want to do with it. It’s probably been the happiest period of my life since I set up the business.”
As a former project accountant in large organisations, Chris’s strong points include a strong policy on data security and a knack for devising business plans to secure finance. By tying his firm’s strategy to his personal objectives, it’s clear he has been successful at applying his professional discipline not just to his clients’ businesses and lives, but his own.
“That’s true,” he said. “My wife would say too much.”