Client Retention – Now’s the Time to Act!
By Vicki Banthorpe
Over the past 9 years, I've worked with a variety of accountancy firms, from sole practitioners to multi-partner firms, each with their own ideas and priorities regarding what they want to achieve from their marketing efforts. During this time, certain activities have dominated a firm’s marketing resources (and budget decisions!), including developing websites, organising seminars or re-branding. However, the current theme which accountancy firms are focusing on is, not surprisingly, client retention.
The main reason that clients will change accountants during a recession is to save money, but also because they perceive they will get better value and service from the new firm. (Probably because this new accountant is being more active on the marketing front!) We will cover "how to increase your marketing activities" in a future article, but for the meantime here’s how you can make sure your clients stay with you:
1) Increase communication
In times of economic uncertainty, don’t become a stranger to your clients. Now, more than ever, they would welcome a letter or phone call from you (that they are not charged for!), just to see how things are going and to chat through some of their issues. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ could never be more apt. In taking the time to see how they are, perhaps over lunch or dinner with some of your larger clients, you would be surprised what you can learn about your clients, and how valued they feel as a result of your meeting. Practice newsletters and newswires can also help to keep your practice at the front of their minds, whilst giving them useful information and practical suggestions on how best to cope in a recession. Through these discussions you may also identify business development opportunities for the practice.
2) Get to the heart of your relationship
What do your clients expect from you? What do they value about your service? How can you improve what you do for them? These questions may seem very simple, but many firms we work with do not know the answers. If you know what makes your clients tick, then it’s a lot easier to develop your relationship with them, which will be to your mutual benefit. Undertaking a client survey can help you to achieve this. If done well, it can really help to strengthen the relationship and the commitment that client has to your firm. We recommend that firms conduct the survey over the phone, to improve response rates and also to give you the opportunity to ‘delve deeper’ into some of the answers that are given.
Postal or online surveys tend not to generate a sufficiently detailed response for you to be able to draw practice-wide conclusions from them. In addition, you have to take the answers at face value – it is not always easy to get to the bottom of what clients mean, unless you can ask them directly.Taking the time to get to know your clients will not only stand you in good stead during economic uncertainty, but will also pave the way for a long and fruitful relationship in future years.
3) Be proactive
Most firms are starting to experience some clients being slower to pay bills than usual. Rather than waiting for the clients to approach you to talk about ways in which they can pay your bills (or not, as the case may be), why not contact them with suggestions for spreading their payments? This can be done as a means of helping clients to clear their old debts, but can be a very effective measure to set in place when you’re about to start on a new assignment for the client. In doing so you’re helping them with their cash-flow, but also helping your firm’s cash-flow by starting to get some money in.
Clients will feel much more valued if you approach them first with solutions to their problems. You could even advertise the fact that you’ll accept monthly payments for your fees, and see how many new clients are attracted to your firm – because they’re not getting this level of service from their existing accountant.
4) Help clients to reduce their costs, free up their time (and increase your fees!)
Many businesses are experiencing reduced revenues because of the economic climate. For some, cutting costs has become a necessity; for others, time is a limiting factor. You could help your clients by offering to take on some of their routine workload such as payroll, general bookkeeping, company secretarial duties or tax and VAT returns. Not only will this either free up their time or reduce their overhead costs, it could also give you an extra stream of income from that client.
Furthermore, it can give you a clearer insight into their business which will enable you to give them more proactive advice in the future.
For some of you, the above tips may be nothing new. However, ask yourself "What are we actually doing to make sure our clients stay with us over the coming months or years?" There is a huge difference between thinking about marketing and doing it!
If you’re looking for a quick marketing fix (enabling you to keep all your existing clients, increasing their fees with you and bringing in lots of new clients) you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you want to achieve a consistent programme of marketing and communication activities to build value with existing clients and to help secure new business in the future, now’s the time to roll up your sleeves and start making it happen.
As well as being SWAT UK's Managing Director, Vicki also works with accountancy firms across the country to help them develop and implement their own marketing plans. If you would like to discuss marketing support for your firm, Vicki can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 0845 450 5555.
This article is published with the understanding that SWAT UK Limited is not engaged in rendering legal or professional services. The material contained in this article neither purports, nor is intended to be, advice on any particular matter. This article is an aid and cannot be expected to replace professional judgment. SWAT UK accepts no responsibility or liability to any person in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by any such person in reliance, whether sole or partial, upon the whole or any part of the contents of this article.