Keeping client connections alive beyond the crisis
Communicating human-to-human is vital, crisis or otherwise, writes Ray Newman, the head of content at PracticeWeb.
PracticeWeb’s latest piece of research into SME attitudes to accountants reveals the importance of good communications and human-to-human connections.
When presented with a range of options, a full 87% of the small business owner-operators we surveyed put communication skills in the top three most desirable characteristics for an accountant.
In that context, it’s perhaps all the more worrying that many also told us they hadn’t heard from their accountant during the peak of the coronavirus crisis, or felt obliged to initiate contact themselves. By mid-May, when the survey was conducted, 7% still hadn’t heard from their accountant – by email, phone or through any other route.
Business people tend to be, well, businesslike, and accountants aren’t, on the whole, known for gushing sentiment. But the spring of 2020 prompted, as the internet would put it, ‘all the feels’.
The world felt scary, the economy was scarier again, and the need for reassurance and support became overwhelming for even the most stoical among us.
Accountants who made contact with clients fulfilled that need, even if there wasn’t much practical assistance they could offer in those first dark days.
This perhaps explains another interesting statistic in the report: 37% of respondents said they would now be more likely to recommend their accountant than before the crisis.
Those accountants came through when they were needed and it changed client perceptions. A connection was made.
We conducted this latest survey in partnership with Phillipa Haynes of brand consultancy Insight 101. She’s a strong believer in the importance of building deep connections with your clients and prospects:
“I always urge my clients to provide an emotional reason to choose their practice over the competition and deliver exceptional customer service. As human beings we look for that inspiration, that value, in deciding what we choose from the endless options, and why.”
From crisis to sustainable strategy
I hope people will use this report as an opportunity to reflect and to shape their communications strategy as we move out of red alert mode.
Look back on how you performed at the height of lockdown – did you communicate enough? Did you say and do the right things? Did you give clients not only what was necessary, but what they wanted?
If like some you rose to the occasion and thrived on adrenalin and community spirit, how can you keep that going now the urgency has passed?
I’d love to see firms that got into the habit of sending regular emails and writing monthly, weekly or even daily blog posts keeping up some of that momentum.
Sure, you won’t always have something as exciting as the furlough scheme to communicate but there are always things you can be telling your clients that will help them operate more efficiently, pay less tax and generally feel more in control amid the chaos.
Every blog post, every LinkedIn status update, is an opportunity for a conversation – to remind your clients you’re there and ready to talk.
You should start by drawing up a content plan, taking into account the possibility of further rounds of lockdown in the next year. And, as I’m sure you will, keep an eye on that ‘summer statement’ scheduled for 8 July – there’s bound to be at least something there your clients will want to know about.
Accountants spend a lot of time urging clients to get smart and use cloud software to automate their businesses. I’m about to turn that on you: have you got customer relationship management (CRM) software in place?
My suspicion – something we’ll be testing with another survey in coming months – is that digitally savvy accounting firms with up-to-date websites, active social media presences and properly configured CRM systems did better in the crisis.
CRMs take the pressure off when it comes to maintaining that connection with clients. They allow you to record details of conversations so you can talk to each client as an individual, remembering what was keeping them awake at night last time you spoke.
And they make it easy to set reminders, schedule emails and target communications.
Accountants often describe themselves as professional, proactive and friendly – so often, in fact, that as a copywriter, I’ve essentially banned these terms. Demonstrating them in your behaviour is much more important, and nothing makes them feel quite as real as a personal phone call or check-in email when your clients need it most.