What makes your practice different from your competitors?

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It’s that time of year when many practitioners are so busy with client deadlines and tax returns they don’t have time to think about much else.

Many clients also see it as the season to explore whether they would receive better service from another firm. It is time to take a few minutes to think about why clients choose to retain your services and ensure those clients are with you next year. 

Practitioners talk about client service and think it means meeting deadlines. Everyone believes they deliver great client service and yet struggle to explain what that means in reality.

Meeting deadlines, delivering a technically correct product and giving people as much notice as possible about their tax liability is a given in the accountancy profession. Why would a client expect anything less?

These are the key things that matter to clients and set you apart from the competition:

Your team

Clients will have more contact with the people who work for you during the year by phone and visiting the office. Do clients receive a warm welcome and are made to feel at home?

When clients are waiting in reception, can they see and hear a positive upbeat atmosphere from the team? Is it a tidy environment or is there a chaotic pile of books, files and papers all around and inspiring a culture of panic and mayhem?

We often overlook the basics which make such a big impression on clients. Happy team means happy clients.

What your clients are really buying from you

All accountants should deliver a technically correct piece of work on time for a fair fee. When clients complain about fees they are really complaining about the service they receive.

Clients are buying into the relationship they have with you and the firm. They need to feel cared for and important as if they are your only client.

To achieve this you must first check you are acting for the type of clients you actually want in your business.

Don’t let poor quality clients who don’t fit your ideal client profile steal your time from ‘A-grade’ clients.

How do you measure your commitment to clients? Make sure you have systems in place to track how often you call or contact them just to check in.

Regularly ask how they rate your service on a scale from 1-10 and ask what you can do to move that grade up a level. Most clients want to be called for no other reason than for their adviser to check in and ask how things are going.

Are you proactive in booking meetings in advance, sending an agenda and following up each meeting with minutes and action plan?

This looks professional and makes the client feel cared for with a highly personalised level of service. Many partners have general discussions with clients and action points aren’t shared with the team or followed up fully.

Agendas and minutes give the client tangible proof of what you are doing and why you are valuable to them. It will also increase internal production efficiency and improved time management.

Technical updates and client contact

Practitioners are very good at sending budget updates, tax rate cards and technical bulletins throughout the year and see this as great client contact and service. In reality, clients know these are generic and will usually bin them or at best put them aside never to be read in any detail.

You need to highlight specific points that are relevant to clients and either call them specifically or, as a minimum, add a personal comment to an email or mailshot which is specific to them.

This takes minimal time but creates a personalised service and perception that you are thinking of your client.

It’s the small things

Remembering birthdays and other significant dates are often perceived by many practitioners as being too fluffy. However, clients love this stuff. It sets you apart from your competitors as it’s not what they expect most accountants to do.

Your database can readily have such key information and it is easy to put a system in place to send out a birthday email or something similar.

The more proactive and successful firms give their managers a budget to spend on A-grade clients at their discretion on things like flowers, wine, and chocolate to mark a significant birthday, wedding, anniversary or similar.

Your managers will feel empowered and involved and your client will feel even more cared for. It is a small investment for a big impact, retaining a client and not involving partner time.

Finally

According to client surveys, the softer things make as much impact as the technical services. The perception is that if there is that attention to detail then the technical services will be delivered equally to a high standard.

The majority of firms now have drinks menus in reception, staff members who greet clients by name and know who is visiting the office every day, birthday cards sent automatically, staff rewards and incentives to keep them positive and pass that culture on when in contact with clients. It’s the simple things that matter.

You don’t want to be that firm who has a reception and office area looking like a bombsite, staff walking around head down and sighing, phones ringing for too long, no one talks to the client waiting to be seen and isn’t offered a drink or a friendly word. Looking manically busy and stressed doesn’t inspire confidence.

Leave your desk for a moment and go and walk through your front door as if you were a client. How do you feel?

 

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About Finola McManus

Finola McManus profile

With over 25 years in practice, McManus spends her time helping other accountancy practices change and grow. She is passionate about sharing the secrets of success and working with accountancy practice owners. 

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12th Dec 2017 10:42

What really sets me apart from other Accountants is that I don't take notice of all this tosh. No I'm not "passionate" about sharing my secrets (is there a secret to success? or is it just plain hard work) with others, though I do like an exchange of views now and then.
Bob, what's your take on this?

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12th Dec 2017 11:30

Sorry don't understand the article at all, aren't all the things said here obvious.

I don't want to be unkind but I hope this is not the only advice you are giving to accounting practices to help them grow.

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to indomitable
12th Dec 2017 11:43

Yes they obvious to Accountants but obviously not to the practices Fiona (no disrespect to you Fiona) deals with. The question is should these people actually be in practice?

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to johnjenkins
12th Dec 2017 14:09

johnjenkins wrote:

Yes they obvious to Accountants but obviously not to the practices Fiona (no disrespect to you Fiona) deals with. The question is should these people actually be in practice?

It's the little things in life that count, like getting the client's name correct ..... or even the writer's name of Finola and not Fiona!

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to paulinleeds
12th Dec 2017 14:33

Should've gone to specsavers.

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12th Dec 2017 14:07

Many things in life are obvious. However, what is obvious to one is not to another. I like the article. I also send a quick email to my clients on their birthday. It's a simple message, but I hope it helps to show that someone is actually doing some thinking. I think that lots of High Street accountants treat clients like objects in a piece of machinery. People do care about their service and it's the little things that make the difference. All accountants are not the same. I think that clients do notice if an experienced accountant contacts them or if they get a different 'spotty youth' with no experience on their first year of training each and every year. I believe a few minutes of real contact, eg a quick phone call, on each client's tax return, however small, makes a real difference. It's an opportunity to deal with a real person and not just cold factual emails or texts. Keep up the good work Finola!

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to paulinleeds
12th Dec 2017 14:36

"Spotty Youth". Bit mean isn't it. That "spotty youth" could be the next paulinleeds or Finola.

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to johnjenkins
14th Dec 2017 17:30

johnjenkins wrote:

"Spotty Youth". Bit mean isn't it. That "spotty youth" could be the next paulinleeds or Finola.


They could be. But whilst they gain experience and can add some value to the client relationship, show your client that you care by personally making the call to the client rather than asking an inexperienced junior to 'annoy' the client.
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to paulinleeds
15th Dec 2017 08:48

As a "junior" I was constantly asked to phone and talk to the client about their records. I was encouraged to ask and find out. This not only enhanced my experience it showed the client that someone was taking an interest in what they did and how they did it. This is where I think you are going wrong, Paul. The client should already know from that first meeting that you care and you should already have conveyed that feeling of trust between yourself and client. That way the "junior spotty youth" will not come across as annoying. If you show confidence in your staff it shows the client that you have confidence in yourself.

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25th Dec 2017 07:05

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McManus spends her time helping other accountancy practices change and grow.

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