Have accountants lost grip of their client ownership?

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The relationship between accountant and client is king. But if this relationship is not managed properly there is a danger that the service offered by accountants may become devalued, according to a new webcast from AccountingWEB.

Referrals remain a core client acquisition component of any ambitious accounting firm, with 76% of 2018 Accounting Excellence entrant firms confirming this as a main focus. But there is a risk technology such as the abundance of apps and the skyrocketing popularity of cloud systems could undermine the client-accountant relationship.

The challenge of client ownership arose in the Accounting Excellence/MyFirmsApp ‘whose client is it anyway’webcast  (now available on-demand). Webcast panellist and Accounting Excellence small firm of the year alumni Alan Woods said accountants need to provide expertise beyond “a whole menagerie of apps”.

Be the expert

Surveying the current accounting landscape, Woods said: “You get a shoebox or a bag of records in the old days and from that, you create a set of accounts or a tax return. Now that information is being shared electronically and the perception could be the client has done all the hard work. They've uploaded the docs, sent through Receipt Bank or Auto Entry and the work is done.”

From the client’s perspective, the process appears simple – too simple, in fact.

So how do firms ensure their client relationships stay at the forefront of their thinking when digitalisation is driving such unprecedented change? Rather than rail against it, MyFirmsApp’s Daniel Richards believes firms should turn this tech wizardry to their advantage by re-enforcing the customer relationship and providing a much deeper, well-rounded customer experience. 

As such, Woods said the key to countering this client ownership challenge is to make sure you come across as the expert – ie the adviser that recommends and supports.

“If you can say 'this is the best solution' for a particular task or challenge a client is trying to address, straight away that client realises we know what we're talking about, and they need to be with us to get most out of the solution,” said Woods.

Build relationships

Indeed, relationships are no longer built the same way they were 30 years ago - formed down the pub or social club. That’s why marketing consultant and webcast panellist Amanda C Watts encourages accountants to focus more than ever on relationship building – especially since more clients are on their phones than ever before.

“We have to be where our clients are,” she said. “If we ignore that fact, we're missing out on a massive opportunity.”

The webcast suggested a number of ways firms can reaffirm the client/firm relationship. In one example, Watts advised firms to consider the first interaction they have with a potential client, which starts the moment they look you up online.

Anyone who searches Alan Woods online will see a caricature of him on his website dressed in Batman suit standing on an aeroplane. Woods credits the caricature with breaking the ice and helping those opening client conversations.

“The main thing it does is personalises us and makes it less of a daunting experience,” said Woods. Meeting with a client on a level footing, Woods said “clients don't feel like they're meeting the headmaster or going to be told off. Some people dread seeing their accountant more than going to the dentist.”

Watch the webcast

For more top tips on how you can strengthen your client relationship, watch the ‘Whose client is it anyway’ Accounting Excellence/MyFirmsApp webcast now.

Watts, Woods and Richards discuss:

  • How you can own your client relationship
  • Why the customer experience is pivotal for referrals
  • How you can use this year’s self assessment season to retain and attract clients
  • And much more

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.