These days, winning and retaining clients is not that straightforward. Often, clients need reasons to stay with a firm. They want to feel valued. This is why a growing number of firms are seeing the benefits of building a client-centric culture.
It goes without saying that all firms strive to serve their clients. But how many of these firms truly embrace this ‘client comes first’ approach?
As cloud adoption entered the profession’s mainstream in this year's Practice Excellence Awards, firms have pushed their innovation towards client services.
These Practice Excellence Awards entrants saw visible benefits through adopting client caring initiatives such as refining their onboarding process and basing the firm’s success on client satisfaction metrics like Net Promoter Scores (NPS).
And interestingly, in what is a real shift in how firms approach client care, some have even turned to the hospitality sector for ideas.
Arguably, as we creep into tax return season and clients are being corralled into submitting early, there is no better time to apply these client care initiatives and people skills. And who is better equipped to do this than a client manager?
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The next big thing is people
This trend emerged once again at October’s Xerocon, where it wasn’t machine learning or automation that Xero’s managing director Gary Turner heralded as the next big thing. It was people.
In addition to splashing this fact across the 120ft Xerocon video screen during his keynote, Turner later reiterated the case to AccountingWEB: “[Xero] did some research last month that said although the majority of practices and their clients expect that there will be more automation and computerisation of processes, something like 84% said they still wouldn’t trust a chatbot or a machine learning model to give them advice.”
And that’s the opportunity the profession has. For Turner, the role of the practitioner is to work in tandem with the benefits of automation: “Think about the role of the practitioner as that business advisor giving advice, making judgments, using common sense – all the things machine learning doesn't do.”
That’s where the client champion comes in. PEA17 Client Service award winner Kinder Pocock appointed someone from the hospitality sector after realising its client communication needed an overhaul. So a client champion was drafted in to regularly contact clients and make them “feel loved”.
Conversations are not just built around key deadlines but also ad-hoc keeping in-touch phone calls. The aim of these conversations is to make the client feel valued. As Turner said, in their current form chatbots wouldn't cut it in this role.
Client service team
But other firms are not leaving it to just one person to spearhead their client service.
Cornwall-based firm The Peloton (pictured above) lives up to its name. For those unaware of the cycling parlance, the peloton is a pack of riders who ride closely together. The aim of this movement is to save energy and improve efficiency. You can clearly see how the PEA 17-shortlisted firm incorporates this approach within its client service, where it has assigned four of its fourteen team members as “support staff”.
“From the moment a client or potential client makes contact with us we want them to instantly feel welcomed and supported,” said Anna Carthew, The Peloton’s marketing manager.
Carthew explained that the support team welcomes clients with their favourite drinks and snacks waiting for them. But this isn’t the only way the support team makes the client feel valued. “We eat lunch together every day and this is cooked from scratch by a member of the team,” Carthew said. “Our clients often join us for lunch; we want them to feel part of the family. In fact, regular visitors are invited to cook for the team too.”
But sometimes, a truly client-centric environment needs values. When Kreston Reeves merged with Spofforths in 2016, the firm opted to define new values for the combined firm rather than squashing both firms’ value statements into one.
Tim Levey, the business advisory partner at Kreston Reeves, explained that establishing this common way of thinking has helped the firm express the client-focussed behaviours it takes to achieve their goals.
“It’s now defining the way we work together and for our clients in a way that sets us apart from our competitors, allowing us to attract and retain the best talent, build a strong brand in the marketplace and help create a great culture internally,” he said.
Focussing on how to treat clients has led the shortlisted PEA17 client service firm to assemble a client care group. With representatives from across the firm, the group upholds the values as a dedicated client manager would, alongside their full-time positions.
Again, the emphasis is on being human and making the most of their people skills. Sometimes it takes a mandate like ‘put yourself in other people’s shoes’ or ‘treat others as you yourself would like to be treated’ to ensure client care initiatives are implemented and client care issues are managed.
Taking a similar empathetic approach towards clients, shortlisted Client Service of the Year firm Inspire introduced soft skills as a key module in its business academy. The internal training, which covers real-life case studies and client visits, arms the team with insight into their clients’ issues.
This goes to show that the skills and attributes a client champion brings to firms have fast become essential skills for every member of the team.
After all, the next big thing is people.
Over the coming weeks, we will delve further into the rise of client managers, and find out how this role works.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.