In our experience working with accountants, the firms that prosper are the ones that have nailed client satisfaction.
With that in mind we have devised a seven-step process called ‘The Accountant’s Client Satisfaction Lifecycle’ to help forward-thinking accountants replicate this success.
It is a repeatable, scalable, plan that can only happen alongside robust systems and processes. If you have these processes in place then, when a client walks through the door, you will know what happens next to provide them with the best support.
The more efficient and technologically-enabled the processes, the more painless that service will be.
Invest time in building a trusted online presence and give value to prospects. This will set the tone for doing more of the work you enjoy, with the clients you want.=How many firms think every client is good business?
Many businesses go through that phase where any new business is good business. But, it’s important that the clients understand you and your team. Why? Because otherwise, they drain the energy from your team and from the clients that really do understand you.
For that reason, your messaging is important in attracting the right type of client. How do you share what it is you do? Your culture and your expectations in how you deal with clients is important. Some firms say they want to deal with SMEs. What does that mean?
For example, Is it nearer the ‘S’ or the ‘M’ in SME? You might enjoy helping start-ups - if that’s the case, just say it. Otherwise, the £10m business will come along and you will debate if they are an appropriate client or not.
You’ve also got to look at the skillsets you and your team possess. If you’ve never dealt with a creative business, you might struggle to be their expert adviser. Set out expectations and then ensure you communicate those. It’s less painful than after you’ve engaged them.
How technology-enabled is your onboarding?
Firms have many ways in which they bring clients on board. There are multiple tools: Practice Ignition; Karbon; Senta; and DocuSign etc. that firms can use to automate this process, or just speed up the onboarding process.
Think about when you used to send out physical documents. Today, there is no need to do that. More importantly, you’ve attracted clients on the basis of your adoption of technology. Imagine then what that client might think if your engagement letter dropped through the letterbox.
An important part of this process is cash collection. Using Go Cardless, Practice Ignition, Stripe etc. sets your firm’s position right at the start of the engagement on your expectation of what the client needs to do to pay your fees.
We talked about engagement letters above, for example, being electronic. Training your clients in collecting data efficiently will help you deliver better, more timely and accurate data for them to run their business.
It seems quite normal to us at AdvanceTrack to expect our client firms to using Dext, Hubdoc or AutoEntry to enhance data collection. I, for one, think there is still a long way for firms to get enough of their clients well-trained in using these products/services.
We hear so many firms say “we use these products”. But, when we ‘look under the hood’, we often find that only a small proportion actually use the software. Some firms let clients drop in their records and a junior team member or admin staff scan it to use within these products. This means that real-time reporting just isn’t happening.
Automation, in this context, can include offshoring/outsourcing. How integrated is the offshore delivery team in your service delivery process?
Our offshore teams are not distracted by answering client calls and e-mails.
This is an important part of your firm’s ongoing communication (which we discuss later), but this should normally be handled by your onshore teams. Why?
Culturally, your onshore teams can respond in the way that your clients understand. Also, they’re in the same time zone and they’re solely focused on client engagement.
Who is doing the checking? How consistent is this process? Is it appropriate for your client-facing teams to be doing all the basic checking?
Offshore teams can run this process, often when you’re sleeping. This means that when you and your teams are at your desks, you’re looking at a nearly complete process that can be validated.
There are ways that the offshore teams can target the work they do. Tools such as Dext Precision can only improve the speed and quality of output. In the wrong hands of course, it could be dangerous!
Our well-trained teams can help.
You’ve identified the problems, what are the next steps?
Who is responsible?
The answer is probably all of the above.
What’s the process of communication?
If you’re talking to the Business Owner, you need to be careful how you broach the subject. My experience of many SME businesses is that the business owner’s partner at home helps on the weekend in keeping the books up to date.
That’s why having an objective tool helps break down the barriers. Imagine the conversation previously being quite fraught. When there is an objective report, you can say “The computer says….”
In terms of the accounting firm or outsourcer taking ownership, if there is a clear demarcation of roles, this is easier to address.
The need to learn is so important, to prevent errors from recurring.
Clients providing timely and accurate data can only allow you to deliver more timely services. Having worked with businesses for over 30 years, I recognise that most common delays result from clients providing information that is incomplete or inaccurate.
Demarcation between outsourcer and firm is no different to allocating roles to team members if you were doing it in-house. What you want to avoid is to start mud-slinging. Whether it’s maintaining harmonious relationships in your team or with your offshore team, this will help. Robust processes too. Experienced outsourcing teams like those at AdvanceTrack can help a firm build this process.
Does communication come naturally to your team members?
If it doesn’t, what process have you built into your business to allow this to happen consistently?
This sounds simple, but it’s not. Again, there are tools such as Clarity that give you the ability to run client-facing meetings in a consistent way. Equally important, if not more so, is acknowledging that it’s not always partners communicating with clients.
Regular check-ins give clients the comfort that they are being looked after. If there is something a junior team member can’t deal with, then there needs to be an escalation process. The firms which navigated the pandemic best were those where client contact was shared out.
Speaking of sharing: we’ll be sharing a lot more thoughts about the seven-step process between 8-10 June (12.00 Noon to 14:00 BST).
We have a great line-up of speakers scheduled to speak on the day including speakers from: AdvanceTrack; Xero; Dext; Capitalise; Clarity HQ; Remarkable Practice; Appacus; and Practice Ignition.
Book your free space using this link: Events | AdvanceTrack® Outsourcing