Technology and face time help to foster client relationships in an economic downturn.
By Janet Haney
While individuals carefully watch their personal portfolios during the current recession, accounting and finance professionals continue to cater to their primary investment—their clients. Keeping up with changes in the global economy isn’t enough anymore. Companies have to dig deep to stay on top of their clients’ changing business needs.
Turn to Tech
KPMG is doing a variety of things to keep clients informed, says Dan Rahill, CPA/JD/ LLM, tax partner at KPMG in Chicago. Efforts include inviting them to tune in to webinars, listen to weekly podcasts, watch relevant webcasts, and attend an ongoing seminar series. The firm offers discussions on topics such as tax implications in a recession, maximizing tax flow, and the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley. KPMG's This Week in State Tax podcasts, for example, aim to help state and local tax specialists keep up with the latest legislative, regulatory and judicial state and local tax changes. Firms even offer CPE credit for some discussions.
A recent Forrester Research report, Ten Ways to Recession-Proof Market Research, offers ideas that can be applied to various industries trying to reach customers in a downturn. The report’s findings emphasize the importance of utilizing Web 2.0 technologies to get the word out about market intelligence, studies, syndicated research access and how-to guides.
“Distribution starts with a publishing mentality—preparing information for mass distribution— and a portal strategy,” writes the report’s author, Ted Schadler. “The value of market research to the business is directly related to the number of business decisions affected by it. The best way to increase the value of a study or report is to get it into the hands of more people.”
Forrester Research also recommends turning to wikis, internal blogs and RSS feeds to extend information even further, noting that such technologies push data into users’ inboxes and browsers. In essence, this method creates a self-service distribution center with all the relevant text information and graphics in one location. Companies typically rely on email alerts and website postings to get the word out about what they are currently offering.
E-News Spreads the Word
Jamshed B. Gandi’s firm Bertorelli, Gandi, Won & Behti saw the need for a client enewsletter some years ago. Gandi, CPA/CFP®/CVA/Ms.Tax, says this format allows the firm to make announcements and provide pertinent prepackaged and original content to approximately 450 clients on a weekly basis.
“This is an extra value-added service we give out. It’s a great marketing tool,” he says. “The articles are in line with the times. Anytime there is something significant happening, you have to make sure the client has the information.”
Rather than being a tool for new business, says Gandi, the e-newsletter adds to the firm’s overall visibility and timeliness. Instead of having to seek out industry-wide and general information elsewhere, clients can simply click on links provided in the body of the email, log on to a webinar or attend a short panel discussion in person. To keep track of the firm’s e-newsletter effectiveness, Gandi receives an email every time someone opens up an article.
Forrester Research agrees that email communication is a valuable means of disseminating information to current clients, particularly in uncertain times.
“Email targets your existing customers, a group far more likely to listen to your messages in a recession than new prospects,” writes author Josh Bernoff in Strategies for Interactive Marketing in a Recession. “A recession is likely to increase email marketing volume.”
Often, though, the personal touch really matters most when the economy is in the tank and people are concerned about their company’s financial future.
“When it comes to selling your services, a webinar can’t replace face-to-face communication,” says Shawn Kane, a state and local tax executive for Crowe Horwath LLP.
Although his firm relies on both webinars and e-newsletters to reach clients, Kane feels that partnerships are imperative. “Clients are having a tough time and want us to partner with them,” he says. “If it’s a company we’ve had a strong relationship with, we’re willing to make that investment.”
Kane admits that the nature of the partnership is determined on a case-by-case basis—maybe they’ll investigate keeping the client’s fees flat or explore above-the-line savings options—and sometimes the firm’s service model has to change to fit the client’s requests.
“Our business is based on personal interaction with our clients,” says Kim Rice, CPA/MST, partner at R&M Consulting LLC. “You make that effort up front then in tough economic times you don’t have to change.”
Part of R&M Consulting’s strategy is to invite clients to lunches, dinners and networking opportunities. Rice notes that her executive-level clients understand the power of face-to-face interaction. “Our focus is always to be engaged with our clients,” she says. “When our clients need help they continue to call us.”
It takes a vigorous balance of face time, technology and marketing savvy to keep current clients. As Schadler writes, “In a downturn, companies will focus more on their customers than on their prospects for the simple reason that it’s easier to make money from existing customers than to spend money acquiring new ones.”