You never get a second chance to make a first impression

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I’m sure you’ll have heard that phrase before, writes Simon Chaplin. I’m sure you will have had bad experiences with other businesses that created a terrible first impression.

I’m also pretty confident you’ll think the first impression you give your prospects is better than average, too. Most practitioners I speak to do. I know my practice did. Until we were tested and we discovered the response to enquiries through the website was not quite as I had hoped!

You see, we instructed someone to undertake a first impression audit and we almost failed at the first attempt. I was shocked to learn during the feedback that most practices DO fail at the first attempt. 

They simply do not reply to enquiries through their website and their answerphones do not work. 

So here’s my first challenge to you…

When was the last time you tested that enquiries through your website actually get responded to? If you have not done it for a month, go do it now. Set up a dummy email account and submit an enquiry. Do your team respond to that email how you want them to?

My second challenge…

The next time the office is closed, call your main number. Does the answerphone kick in? Does the message thank the caller for calling, share your opening hours and then tell the caller when they can expect a call back if they leave a message? If the answer to any of those questions is “no” then there is room for improvement.

Now, on to the first call received from a prospect – and the next bit seems blindingly obvious with hindsight, but isn’t great advice always so?

It was highlighted that the initial call had no structure. 

Of course it didn’t! All that happened was the person taking the call grabbed the closest notepad or piece of scrap paper and started taking notes. They asked some great questions, but they mostly just chatted generally and, to my mind, didn’t share half of the benefits of working with the practice.

Having received and listened to the feedback, I set about improving the system so those calls became more structured, helped us weed out the people we did not want to be seeing and delivered some value to the caller. 

As a result we designed an ‘Initial Client Information’ sheet and if you want a copy you can get your hands on one at the end of this article.

The form starts off with basic stuff like name, telephone number and email address; all things that we will need to follow up the call!

It then moves on to collect some data about the caller, some basic numbers from their business, why they want to move accountants (what their need is) and where they got our name from. 

From that information we can very quickly judge if they are an acceptable client for the practice. If they aren’t, they get recommended elsewhere. 

If they are an acceptable client we move on to share the six benefits (not features!) of working with the practice and gather some more detailed information about the business. At this point we are looking at ways we can help them specifically.

Next, we move on to talk about how easy it is to change accountants. Most people don’t know and the potential aggravation is one of the reasons they choose not to move in the end, so we get this out of the way as early as we can.

Finally, the form contains lots of things we need to do internally to make sure the potential client has a great first experience of working with us. A checklist of sorts.

It makes sure we send an email follow-up to the call, most often to confirm the appointment we have made at the end of the call to have a meeting to discuss their requirements properly.

It also makes sure that their details are entered in to our CRM system, we follow them on Twitter if they have an account and we connect with them on LinkedIn.

Lastly, we state the immediate next step that needs to be taken after the call and the manager signs to say that it’s been completed. To my mind we have delivered a great first impression.

In a future article I’ll share what happens next, but in the meantime, if you’d like a copy of our Initial Client Information sheet just email me on [email protected] and I will gladly send one to you.

• Simon Chaplin, AKA Socks Up Simon, is also the author of ‘My 21 Tip Top Pieces of Savvy Software to Help Accountants Save Time, Money and Face!’ and you can get your copy at www.socksupsimon.com/AP1.

This article is taken from “Accounting Practice” the ICPA quarterly magazine. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the needs of the general practitioner. You can find us at www.icpa.org.uk or email [email protected] or by phone on 0800-074-2896.