6 Ways to Keep Your Clients Loyal
Following these tips can boost your reputation and build an unbreakable bond between you and your clients.
Digital Exclusive - 2017
Few would question the value of a CPA in today’s business world, where accurate financial records, timely tax returns, and strategic financial decisions typically require someone who has not only expert financial insight, but also a knack for understanding and distilling an ever-changing business landscape.
That doesn’t mean that CPAs can slack on staying competitive—it isn’t enough to simply deliver reputable services and hope that clients love what you do enough to come back for more.
In fact, even in the most time-honored, respected professions, we’re seeing more and more attention being paid to—and loyalty engendered by—committed, focused customer service.
For the introverts among us, however, that might mean a whole new stress-inducing level of service.
“The majority of us aren’t extroverts by nature,” says Bob Wheeler, CPA, CEO of RWW CPA in Los Angeles and CFO of The Comedy Store. “Take most tax accountants; they really just want clients to hand over the tax docs and then leave them alone to get the work done.”
Wheeler takes a different approach, though, inspired by something a college professor once told him: “Public accounting is 40 percent public, and 60 percent accounting.”
In other words, the profession is really about relationships. And while actual accounting is central to the work, Wheeler points out “when you’re dealing with people’s money, it really is an emotional experience. Clients want to know that they have a solid relationship with the CPA they’re working with.”
Here, then, are six steps to win client commitment:
1. Never talk over their heads
Wheeler vividly remembers the time a new client came to him and complained about the challenging relationship she’d had with her former CPA.
“She was a very wealthy woman, and when I asked her why she didn’t stay with the large firm she had been working with, she said it was because they would grab the paperwork out of her hands and make her feel like she didn’t know anything about finance.”
Lesson? Don’t be condescending. Wheeler’s advice is to work harder to forge relationships with clients instead of just dictating instructions to them. Take the time to develop a communication style that’s both understandable and likeable, he adds, and one that goes beyond conveying just “basic dollars and cents” information.
2. Hire the right people
In a service business, clients vote with their feet. In other words, they can walk in today and say, "I'm not happy with the service here," and walk right back out.
“When you're in the services business, you have to get up every day and get your clients to fall in love with you,” says Kimberly Rath, chairman and co-founder at Talent Plus Inc., in Lincoln, Neb. One way to do that is by selecting the right individuals to serve your clients—individuals intent on exceeding expectations—both yours and your clients.
Don’t use bait-and-switch tactics, either, Rath warns. “In a consulting services firm, you build a relationship with someone who, many times, becomes a trusted advisor,” she explains. “When that person either turns over or leaves the firm, or the work gets handed down to someone more junior—and clients thought they were going to get your trusted council—then they wind up disappointed.”
And disappointment often leads to goodbye.
3. Establish a good follow-up system
Even if all you do is send a two-line email thanking a client for yesterday’s meeting, says Wheeler, take the time to do it—and on a regular basis. In today’s digital world most people expect to hear back from you within the day. Don’t get back to them, and they’ll think they’re not important to you.
“From a professional standpoint, it’s not always easy to answer in an hour or two,” says Wheeler, “but keep your response time down if you want your clients to really know that you care about them.”
4. Leverage top communication tools
Staying up-to-the-minute doesn’t only apply to client communications, it also applies to all the technology you’re using to communicate. In other words, use everything at your disposal to make sure you give individual clients what they need the way they need it.
Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP, for example, uses videoconferencing as her primary communication tool for those occasions when she needs to meet “face-to-face” with her virtual financial planning clients. She’s found that this approach has been met with the approval of Millennials and Baby Boomers, alike.
“I knew that I wanted to run a 100-percent virtual firm, so from day one I’ve been using videoconferencing with all of my clients,” says Dorsainvil. “Everyone loves it because they can speak with me face-to-face via their computers or devices without having to drive to an office or meet at a Starbucks to get a few questions answered. It’s a great tool that I couldn’t live without.”
5. Create a stable, consistent environment
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that clients like to see stability in the professionals managing their finances. Maintaining a stable office location and “tone,” for example, can help clients feel more secure about your capabilities and longevity.
“I once worked for an accountant who changed office locations every two years,” says Wheeler, “and I’ve seen CPAs close up shop and disappear once tax season is over. Neither one of these strategies will instill confidence in your clients.”
6. Take an individualized approach
Every client has different needs, even if they’re all looking for strategies to maximize their financial wellbeing.
“There's a lot of individualization that goes into taking care of your clients,” says Rath, who advises that CPAs can never do enough to exceed their clients’ expectations.
“Focus on becoming their trusted advisor,” she says. “When you succeed at that goal, you will get people to vote with their feet. They'll come back more often and they'll recommend and refer people to your business.”
Why? Because they love you and the work that you do for them.