Our approach has always been to support accountants to put their clients at the focus of what they do.
This doesn’t mean they need only do it for a short, or interim, period. It is about being consistent in your dealings with clients.
You might ask yourself: ‘Why is this important?’ But, think about what happens when a client leaves. They will tell you that it’s because of the price, but it’s usually down to service levels - they use price as ‘cover’ for the real reasons.
Clients like to have certainty in their dealings, and feel the service they receive is valuable.
Higher Consumer Expectations
Think of your online deliveries. Whether we like doing business with businesses like Amazon or not, they have raised the expectation levels of consumers across the globe.
Think back to a time, perhaps not that long ago, say ten years, when you ordered something online. If this arrived a week later, you were delighted.
Now, if you’ve not received a confirmation within 24 hours, you’re on the phone or sending the retailer a message asking of its whereabouts.
This change in expectation is not just in the retail world. It applies equally to professional services, such as accountancy, tax or bookkeeping. It is important that this relationship is managed well. Consider a retailer. The customer may buy only one item in that category each year, and may not have brand loyalty.
For professional services, the client returns year after year. They don’t have to, and you have to remember that they are sophisticated consumers.
When you consider how professional services businesses are valued, the recurring nature of that relationship is important in the valuation of your firm. In our opinion, it goes beyond that.
Successful people tend to surround themselves with people of a similar ilk. If you don’t share that mindset, they will deduce that and take their business to someone that acts similarly. Mediocre is not acceptable to these people.
If you are having that regular dialogue with them, they understand first and foremost that you care. They understand you, your people and what drives you. Don’t be scared of showing them what you stand for. Otherwise, you’re just another corporate who doesn’t have the values they share.
How has COVID changed your clients’ view of the world?
Not every business has been impacted by COVID. But, it’s fair to say, more businesses have been negatively impacted than positively impacted.
As a business’s finances are tighter, they will look more carefully at all their costs, including their accountancy fees. My experience in practice was always that if you spoke to your clients regularly about what you are doing for them, there were never any surprises. If there are no surprises, there is a good understanding of what you are doing and what the outcomes will be.
This is as important for a client paying £2,000 or £200,000. It is important not to only focus on the £200,000 client. You will have more £2,000 clients than £200,000 clients. Even at big firms, there will be more at the lower end of the scale than the higher end.
Keep more of them happy, you will have more advocates for your business, and it’s a lot easier to get them to move up to £5,000, £10,000 etc. than to get £200,000 clients moving up.
Make your service personal
Talking from personal experience, my parents had regular interaction with their accountant in a pre-cloud world.
The key to their relationship was an alignment of personal and business goals. This wasn’t an accident on David’s part (their accountant). He called his entire client base on a rolling basis. He didn’t choose to call one at the expense of the other. I recall sitting in his office opposite him as a 17 year-old watching him spend his day calling clients all day - every day.
This gave him insight into his clients’ lives, which allowed these clients to call him when they needed help. He never charged for that ongoing call, but because he cared enough to call, when they had an issue, they didn’t think about who to call. It made that fee discussion a very easy conversation.
In a cloud world, all that changes is that you have greater information to discuss with the client. You still need to make a call. Sending them an email is not enough – it’s too impersonal and doesn’t elicit a conversation.
Has COVID changed the dial?
In this COVID environment, the firms we’ve seen cope best with COVID were those that followed this same approach. From the smallest to the largest client, they made that call, to show they cared. Whether it was a first-year trainee who made the call or the managing partner, someone at these firms reached out at an immediate point of need and said to them: “We’re here for you.”
The firms that sent their staff home on jobkeeper/furlough schemes, who didn’t answer the phones, have been the ones that have lost clients to the ones that cared. Why? I go back to the message about successful people; removing those that don’t display the same characteristics as them.
Any entrepreneur running a business cares passionately about their families and their businesses. Many employ staff. These staff just want to know they have a job that will allow them to run their lives. The entrepreneur wants to give that certainty, to them and their families. Imagine, as that entrepreneur if they didn’t have the call, or the ability to speak to someone who just was able to say: “I’ve looked at your finances and with our help, you’ll come through fine”?
When you strip it back, it’s not difficult.
The impact of the Cloud
Digital practices, those operating from the cloud, were best-placed to handle the unprecedented working conditions of the past year. Unencumbered by servers, or tied to unwieldy software and unwieldy contracts, they have been able to utilise digital tools to serve clients and do it away from the office.
They are now well-placed to build on even closer ties with their clients to support them with a range of forward-facing and business-building services – using tools delivered on the cloud.
So what should you be doing?
I can sit here and tell you that outsourcing and offshoring is the answer to it all. I won’t. But if you have the mindset to use your people better and provide a more valuable service, then outsourcing and offshoring can make a big, positive, difference. It’s a consideration I’ll come back to later.
Firstly, you need to look at your client’s journey/experience with your firm (see fig. 1).
This is just one example of a typical workflow for a compliance service being delivered to a client. The more efficient and technologically enabled this process, the more painless that service is. Once the pain has been removed from both the firm and the client, and each party knows their respective responsibilities, it is easier to have an open conversation about them and their business.
So, you’ve got the compliance process right, and are prepared to have deeper, more forward-facing, conversations with your clients. How do you do this?
The strategic use of offshore resource can help the onshore team deliver service that keeps the clients coming back for more. They will spread the word about what you and your team did for them.
Think of online reviews. You hear from 100% of the unhappy customers and a fraction of those that are happy. It means that you are constantly looking to add clients to keep growing. Where clients do support your marketing is when you offer a very high-value service. In other words, you need to wow the majority of your existing client base. This keeps your client fees growing as your clients’ business prospers from your expertise.
Our profession changes lives – but not by producing a set of accounts.
If you can demonstrate year after year that you’re changing theirs and their families’ lives, they’ll be referring clients on to you constantly. They’ll also be paying you for more services and their existing services.
Free up time to be valuable
We believe the effective use of offshore delivery through AdvanceTrack’s dedicated offshoring and outsourcing services will free up time in your practice.
We have seen the most successful firms moving more client management and relationships down to team members across the business. This is important in many ways. First and foremost, it gives increased capacity to serve the client base. More importantly, the culture of the business embeds that service ethos from the trainee upwards. We see these people as leaders of the future and able to attract the right talent to the business to keep that going.
Driving client service drives better outcomes for clients and staff. AdvanceTrack can help your firm deeply embed this, whilst improving the profitability of the business.