Most businesses, including accounting firms, believe they are providing excellent client service. Your exceptional service sets you apart from the competition and keeps your clients happy. Or does it?
Unfortunately, businesses often make assumptions about what their clients want. Sometimes they miss the mark, which can lead to misunderstandings, unmet expectations, and potentially dissatisfied clients who eventually take their business elsewhere.
“When a firm, or any other business, has been doing things the same way for 10, 20, or 30 years — and it has worked for 10, 20, or 30 years — there are blind spots,” said Greg Pope, Vice President of Marketing at SurePrep. “…You’ve really got to take a deep look at the kind of service you’re offering compared to other firms and the kind of service your clients are receiving in other industries.”
Underscoring this point, HubSpot’s Annual State of Service in 2022 report found that 88 percent of customer service professionals surveyed believe customers have higher expectations than they did in previous years. And, in today’s connected society, 85 percent of those surveyed agree that customers are more likely than ever to share positive or negative experiences with others.
That’s why it is important for firms to take a hard look at their client service models to ensure they are providing clients the services they actually want — and not just the services you think they want.
Let’s take a look at a few client service areas that can boost your firm’s reputation in your clients’ eyes.
Increase client communication, value
Client communication is something that most firms think they’ve got figured out. However, that is often not the case.
Clients want regular, proactive communication and advice from their firms. This is especially true given today’s complex business environment and the ever-changing tax laws.
Better serving your clients begins with gaining a clear understanding of things you are doing well and areas in need of improvement.
“Use technology that makes it easy to collaborate, like a mobile app, or something that facilitates a more streamlined, modern approach. Make it easy for clients to communicate with you and give you feedback. That is key. In terms of client service, obviously, you can’t know how your clients feel about the service you’re providing unless you ask them,” Pope said.
Added Pope, “Firms should have a really client-centric approach to their process. You’ve got to think in terms of the client. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes. And you’ve got to request regular feedback from them. There are very inexpensive and, in some cases free, services these days which allow you to send out a customer service survey to your clients, or a net promoter score survey to your clients, to identify what things you’re doing well and what areas need improvement. If you’re not asking for feedback, you’re just guessing.”
Take, for example, the customer satisfaction survey presented by Medford, N.J.-based accounting firm Padden Cooper. Questions in the online survey include, but are not limited to:
- Were you aware of all these available services?
- Are there any services you would like to see available?
- Are you satisfied with your relationship with the firm?
- Do you feel comfortable recommending our services?
- What do you like most about our firm?
- What do you like least about our firm?
- How can we improve?
Stay abreast of what’s happening in the accounting industry
It is also important to identify, prior to tax time, industry trends and issues that are likely to impact your clients and to be the ones making the call. This helps solidify your firm as a trusted business partner. It also opens the door for potential new business opportunities from existing clients and, ultimately, delivers clients greater value. And greater value means stronger loyalty.
In fact, a Bill.com survey of millennial-led business owners found that more than half (52 percent) said strategic insight and guidance are necessary from accounting firms.
And more recently, a survey from the Thomson Reuters Institute found that 95 percent of tax professionals believe their clients want business advisory services. This client demand was further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as clients sought advice about everything from applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans to how to manage their finances to keep their businesses afloat. Looking ahead, tax professionals see this increased demand for business advice lasting beyond the pandemic.
Demonstrate the value of your firm’s accounting services to break the DIY trend
Demonstrating value can also help firms break the DIY trend. People often think they can get everything they need from the latest personal accounting software. In order to compete, firms need to demonstrate their worth to these taxpayers.
Consider the stats: According to data provided by eFile.com, in 2021, taxpayers self-prepared and e-filed roughly 67 million tax returns by the end of December 2021. In 2020 for Tax Year 2019, 72 million taxpayers prepared and e-filed their federal tax returns themselves.
Whether it’s by showing taxpayers how they can save more money or avoid potential risks, the ROI in overcoming the DIY trend is worth the effort for today’s firms.
“The final tax return is a commodity. …I think the best way to stand out is through that client-centric approach, through client service,” Pope said. “You’ve got to be very, very responsive to the client’s needs. You’ve got to provide tools that make it easy for them to collaborate with you on their own timelines.”
‘Get with the times’
Client collaboration involves having conversations with clients to see how they want to interact and receive communications. Failing to accommodate clients’ ways of interacting can lead to feelings of neglect and frustration.
To better serve clients, accounting firms may find they need to make additional investments in technology to accommodate requests for easier-to-navigate client portals, video conferencing, and other collaboration options.
As Pope mentioned earlier, firms should take a closer look at “the other kinds of service that your potential clients are receiving in other industries.”
Take, for example, the rise of mobile app usage within the banking industry. A recent national survey by the American Bankers Association found that, prior to COVID-19, 33 percent of bank customers used apps on phones or other mobile devices as their top option for managing their bank account. Not surprisingly, this number rose to 44 percent during the pandemic.
Consider client preferences around technology usage
Many clients have grown accustomed to the accessibility and conveniences of the Internet and mobile applications (i.e., mobile banking, online shopping, online bill pay, etc.) They want and expect the same experience from their tax and accounting professionals.
Further supporting this point, the Bill.com survey of millennial-led business owners found that some millennial business owners not only want to work with leading technologies — they require it. A quarter of millennial business owners said it is “critically important” to them that their accounting firm use the cloud and mobile technologies.
Pope noted, however, the importance of giving clients the option when it comes to collaboration. For instance, offering virtual meetings but also face-to-face meetings, etc.
“You want to give clients options. Don’t force a change on them. These days, even older clients who may be less tech-savvy want to use technology that makes life easier, but don’t force them to do it,” Pope said.
Align your firm’s accounting services with client needs
Be certain that your firm isn’t missing the mark. It is important that firms take a closer look at their client service models to ensure they are providing clients the accounting services they actually want — and not just the services they think clients want.
To learn more about client service and the other challenges facing accounting firms around tax season, watch our on-demand webcast, “Tax Season Report Card: How did your firm score this tax season?” And be sure to keep an eye out for Part 2 of our Tax Season Report Card webcast, “Find Your Flow: 1040 tax workflow stress relief,” coming up on June 9th.