The high standards displayed in the client services category of the 2017 Practice Excellence Awards proves that accountants are now taking the ‘client comes first’ trend seriously.
As more firms realise the importance of client care, this category saw at least a dozen contenders with a case for the shortlist. However, the successful firms were those that showcased innovation and improvement within their client care.
Evident across many of the applications was how client service had become part of the firm’s culture. As judge Berinder Chadha noted: “A lot of businesses in other areas are still ahead when it comes to overall thinking about how they look after customers and clients, but it is encouraging to see how seriously accountants are now taking it. Clients need to be given every reason to stay, and they won't if they aren’t feeling valued or getting value from their professional relationships”.
This thinking adds credence to the belief that there is a direct link between good client service and financial growth.
There were key comments repeated in several applications – Net Promoter Score figures were quoted, showing increasing reliance on customer satisfaction measurement, and personal accountability emerged, as practices ushered in specific client-centric job titles such as client manager and client champion.
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Kreston Reeves is a south east-based firm specialising in charities. To ensure client service is at the heart of the firm, Kreston Reeves allocates a client team of three people, which includes a partner, supervisor and controller level, to every client.
From this, a ‘Working Together for our Clients’ charter was created, which lists five key threads that underpin their client activity. Kreston Reeves assembled a client care group to embed client care in the firm’s culture and values.
The firm measures its success through client feedback gathered through the investor in customer client survey and an internal survey. In the firm’s first attempt, it achieved the top “exceptional” rating, scoring 8.1 out of 10.
Inspire Professional Services developed its business academy in 2016 to ensure its team has the soft skills and entrepreneur expertise to help their clients succeed. The internal bespoke training initiative combines business practices with real-life client case studies, allowing the team to visit clients and hear their story first-hand, ask questions and gain real insight into their experience.
The firm also credits internal communication such as Monday morning stand-up meetings and utilising the online tool Yammer as approaches that have streamlined client care and ensuring all team members are up-to-date with a client’s progress.
The firm’s customer service is monitored by a regular NPS survey – the firm’s current score is over 60.
Key to the Mazuma’s focus on client service is the introduction of a monthly 10-star client rating system. What’s unique about this system is that Mazuma rates their clients and then tells them their scores. The rating scheme encourages clients to submit their invoices and receipts on time. Not only has this led to the percentage of clients receiving 10 stars doubling for perfect submissions, but the customer service strategy has helped drive consistent year-on-year growth.
Elsewhere, Mazuma assigns each client a client service team, which includes a qualified and part-qualified accountant. The firm’s client service strategy starts with a welcome pack, so the client knows what to expect, and is driven by five service KPIs.
Cambridge-based Tayabali White’s commitment to delivering a tailored personal service was driven by asking their best clients what they want. Through this, the firm adjusted its business to target a demographic used to paying for a good service.
This client care manifests as a service akin to personal banking. The firm’s processes are designed with the client in mind, which prompted the firm to invest in “front of house” service, knowing clients by name (and where they park and what they drink), regular partner meetings, and staff taking responsibility for clients – even if it is not their client.
High service levels are sustained through annual client surveys, where the clients can grade from 1-5.
As Practice Growth of the year 2015 winner, it’s no wonder Kinder Pocock is always looking for new ways to grow and improve. That’s why the firm has appointed a client champion whose role is to ensure clients feel loved and are contacted regularly. The client champion reminds other team members when they need to contact clients for deadlines and keeping in touch conversations.
In addition, the firm sends a regular client happiness survey, where 92.3% of clients said that they would recommend Kinder Pocock to others. The survey drives other improvements in the firm, which led to it overhauling its client communication and onboarding process. Similarly, Kinder Pocock runs exit interviews with leaving clients to find out what the firm could have done differently.
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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.