In a world where you can’t take a taxi without having to rate the driver, accountants are getting in on the ‘swipe and rate’ survey craze.
Every year in the Accounting Excellence awards, client satisfaction surveys have found consistent support from practitioners looking to refine their client service offering. Last year, the percentage of entries using surveys as part of their service bounced back from 19% in 2017 to 29%.
An imperative tool for the business
For The Accountancy Office, the reigning Client Service firm of the year, surveys are an imperative tool to help improve the business.
“As we know, customer retention is hugely important for any business,” said Sarah Sallis, the founder of The Accountancy Office. “It's a case of making sure what we're doing is right and if there is anything we can improve on, to make sure we're actually doing that. Surveys are integral to our processes.”
At 100% last year, the Accountancy Office’s impressive retention stats show that the firm’s continuous improvement efforts are paying off. “We have a good customer retention rate and it is far easier to retain clients than it is to find new ones,” she said.
Though Sallis had a good idea that her clients were happy since most have been with the firm since the beginning ten years ago, the surveys reassure them that what they’re doing is right.
Beyond client retention
In a typically Bristish way, some clients may nod happily to your face but it’s a different story when they leave your presence. They’d fester over any bad service rather than broach the in-person social awkwardness. Even though Sallis regularly speaks with clients on a daily-to-weekly basis, she says surveys enables the firm to dive a little deeper into what her clients really think.
“Clients can be open and honest in the survey whereas they might not feel as comfortable mentioning in person,” she said.
Sallis puts herself in the client’s shoes and asks questions based on the whole shebang, from the onboarding process to whether they consider the fees reasonable.
“For example, we ask how responsive we are to answering their queries and ‘How accessible are key members of staff?’ which are things which might not necessarily come up in a conversation.”
The benefits of client surveys don’t stop at client retention. Surveys have also had an effect on the Accountancy Office’s service offerings. With clients noting how overwhelmed they’ve become with Making Tax Digital, Sallis took action on the responses and invited clients to mini-workshops which offered clear guidance. “If there is something they need, it will always come up in the survey if we hadn't got wind of it before,” she said.
Sallis currently sends the annual survey out in the middle of the calendar year. But she plans on doing them regularly. “We might do them quarterly, but I don't want to bombard the clients too much throughout the year,” said Sallis.
“We're looking at the client completing the survey once we've had our year-end meeting with them and their accounts are signed off to get their thoughts on how the process went.”
Flipping client surveys on its head
As Sallis prepares to overhaul her client survey process, one of this year’s client service top five firms Mazuma has already revamped theirs.
The accountancy firm has used client surveys for many years, but rather than have feedback forms be a one-off project periodically, the firm has switched to incorporating them into the everyday operation of the business.
“In the past we have had quite extensive surveys to gain feedback, but we often find that response rates are low – mainly because we’re asking the client to do too much,” explained Lucy Cohen, the co-founder of Mazuma.
“Nowadays we have an opportunity for clients to review us on an ongoing basis. At any point they can tell us they’re either happy or unhappy via a brief survey and we can talk to them about any feedback they have.”
And now the firm has flipped its client survey process on its head again. They review their clients and let them know their score.
“It sounds a little bit Black Mirror, but bear with me,” said Cohen. “It came from a period of time where we wanted to make sure that the clients we were working with were the right type of clients for us. So we started assessing each client with a score out of 10.
“Then we looked at the data and realised that actually, those that scored highest were those that received the best service because they were using the service in the right way.”
Mazuma took that information and developed it into a client rating system that was transparent with the client. For several years, this system worked well but fast forward to now and the firm has recently removed this feature.
“It just didn’t match the way that we communicated any more,” said Cohen. “And our marketing and client onboarding process means that many of the score-able aspects are educated right from the beginning. But having that as part of our service taught us a lot over those few years and we’re reaping the rewards of it now.”
With firms constantly improving their client survey processes, it seems like the client satisfaction survey will be as part of accountancy as it is for restaurants and taxis.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.