When it comes to keeping happy clients (and attracting new ones) to your practice, client experience is critical. It’s one of the reasons nearly 46% of business professionals surveyed by SuperOffice ranked improving the customer experience as their company’s top priority over the next five years. Research firm Gartner defines a client experience as:
“The customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions with a supplier’s employees, systems, channels, or products.”
And whether you realize it or not, you likely have a client experience or journey that is unique to your accounting practice. For example, it most likely includes:
- How a potential client initially finds your firm
- Their first impressions of your business and brand
- The onboarding experience once they become a customer
- Actual advisory services they receive from your team
Providing a quality client experience can be the difference between keeping a customer or losing them to a competitor. Suppose your clients have a poor experience when getting in touch with you (or your staff), or run into issues with simple things such as sharing paperwork during tax season. Frustrated clients could quickly start looking to see if the grass is greener with a different firm.
However, it’s a two-way street: a great experience needs to be backed by scalable processes that work for your firm and your clients. Let’s take a look at some tools and high-level approaches you can use to improve the customer experience, increase retention, and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Consider a CRM to increase customer engagement
CRM stands for customer relationship management, and it’s a software with a variety of functionality (some right out-of-the-box) that can help streamline your marketing, sales, and communication efforts. Most include platforms for email distribution, social media automation, and some even have integrations for publishing blog posts directly to your website. CRMs are widely valued because they can help you segment your clients by lifecycle and manage outreach accordingly. For example, you could segment contacts into leads, new clients, or older clients.
With careful planning, you can:
- Automate outreach to each of these customer segments
- Send each one different messaging based on where they are in your sales funnel
For instance, you would not want to send a new lead an email thanking them for being a long-time customer. On the flipside, you’d probably avoid including a longstanding client on an email nurture campaign with reasons why it makes sense to hire you as their bookkeeper.
When set up properly, a CRM also measures engagement with each of these customer segments, from content they click to which email subject lines encourage the most opens. These insights can help you to develop a more process-driven (rather than emotion-driven) workflow when nurturing prospects and clients. In addition, many solutions tell you when it’s time to move to the next part of the sales process based on data about how the lead engages with you or your content, making it easier to keep track of and create a more natural flow for your customer experience.
While there are hundreds of CRM tools on the market, a few popular ones include: Pipedrive CRM, Zendesk CRM, HubSpot CRM, Zoho CRM, Salesforce CRM, and monday.com.
In this analysis from AccountingWeb, Jackie Meyer, CPA and founder of TaxPlanIQ, says: “A strong CRM strategy can help you increase your sales and improve customer service and retention. You’ll know when Mr. Jones has a birthday or Mr. Smith needs to file specific forms and be on top of your client outreach.”
While some time investment will be required to understand and best implement the technology, the potential payoff can be tremendous. If you’re unsure exactly how to make your customer experience seamless from beginning to end, a CRM is a great place to start.
Develop educational and FAQ content
Providing answers to frequently asked questions (commonly known as FAQ pages) and educational content is an excellent — and efficient — way to help clients solve problems before they make it to your inbox. These resources give clients a quick way to access common questions and answers without picking up the phone or sending an email. It can be a good idea to link to these resources from your homepage (one place to consider is your website’s footer.) On the other hand, if your content is gated and clients log into to view it — consider making FAQ’s one of the first resources they see after entering their credentials.
Blog posts are another type of educational content to consider adding to your website. You can discuss timely topics like minimum wage increases or changing tax laws, or you could even write about practices to follow when budgeting for your business. Not only will your existing clients benefit from these educational resources — but they can also be a great way to attract new folks to your website who might be interested in your services. High-quality blog posts can boost your SEO (search engine optimization), increase your overall visibility, and position your practice as an emerging thought leader in your space or area of expertise.
Clients appreciate these resources because they can access them at any time of day or from any device.
Try a meeting scheduling tool
OnPay’s Small Business Finance and HR survey found that, among those surveyed, 23% of small business owners planned to switch accountants in the next year. The reasons why? A lack of proactive communication and the feeling that their accountant doesn’t understand them or their business. A great way to bridge this communication gap is by offering your clients more regular touchpoints (virtual or in person) — and using a scheduling tool can make it easy to manage your calendar.
Most scheduling tools make it simple for clients to see your availability and self-service, which makes scheduling a breeze. It cuts down on the cumbersome back and forth that usually comes with figuring out calendar availability. Instead, customers can find time on your schedule in just a few clicks. Also, there’s nothing to record or keep track of for either party because many of these platforms send confirmation emails within seconds of booking a time. It’s a great way to keep the lines of communication open with your customer throughout the year.
Additionally, many meeting scheduling tools integrate (or are internally built) into CRM programs – making this process even more seamless for you and your clients. For example, if someone reads your blog post about how to complete Form W-9, you can install a chatbot on your website to pop up that says, “Hi! Are you looking for help with tax forms and documents? Set up a meeting here to schedule a consultation with a member of our team to see if we can help.” with a link directly to your meeting tool. Now you have a lead, you know at least one of the services the website visitor is looking for help with, and all of that information is securely stored in one place.
Examples of meeting scheduling tools include: Calendly, CalendarHero, When2Meet, Google Calendar and ScheduleOnce.
Use HR and client portals
Setting your clients up with HR and payroll services grants you extra visibility into the key functions of their organization. This insight can provide you with a far deeper understanding of their business, in turn helping you better advise on (or proactively prevent) any issues that may arise.
Offering your client access to team management software, or a client portal, also empowers them to handle small HR or payroll-related issues on their own. This allows your clients to be engaged and hands-on,and might help you delegate a few tasks, too.
Establishing a client portal also lets you and your clients securely send or receive documents (a critical part of the onboarding process) and makes it easier for any customers that may not be non-tech savvy. According to the experts at Zendesk: “While customers want and expect to be able to self-serve, only a third of companies offer some form of self-service. Adopting a customer portal is another way to increase customer satisfaction and improve retention by delivering on customer expectations and differentiating from the competition.”
There are a lot of software options to choose from out there when it comes to payroll, HR, and client portals. OnPay and Zendesk are popular choices that make it easy for small businesses and their accountants to work together.
Use survey tools to strengthen your service offerings
One of the most effective ways to improve your processes and the customer experience? Get feedback on what’s working well — and what could be improved. Survey tools are a useful method to regularly gather feedback from your clients throughout different steps of the onboarding and advisory processes. It’s a good idea to keep surveys short and embed them into automated emails, where possible, so that it takes just a click or two for clients to respond. Most survey software will also let you space things out so you’re only surveying clients every three, six, or 12 months.
Many survey tools have templates you can customize to ask more questions that are specifically tailored to how you run things for your firm. Or you can keep it as simple as asking: “How satisfied are you with this service?”
- Somewhat satisfied
- Not satisfied
This provides you with feedback about your client experience in real-time, so you can make any necessary changes where you identify pain points. You can also use survey tools to inquire about possible interest in new services or to collect written testimonials from the clients who are your biggest fans.
In addition, you can sometimes use these tools to identify happy clients and encourage them to leave reviews online (which in turn can give your practice a boost when it comes to placement in search results).
Bringing it together: implementing new tools + practices
Once you’ve decided to implement some new tools to improve your client experience, the next step is to schedule hands-on training for you and your team. The good news is most providers offer live, instructor-led demonstrations or have video libraries that teams can access any time of day. Establish a clear timeframe of when the lessons should begin and end, leaving enough time for your team to learn, ask questions, and practice using the tools on their own before they’re expected to use it with clients.
Training clients, on the other hand, can sometimes present a challenge. A few great things to communicate to clients when you’re announcing a new process or software implementation:
- Let them know of the change directly via email or phone. It’s best to do this several times before the change takes place, which helps ensure that more people are aware of what to expect. An ideal example would be to provide six-week, four-week, two-week, and one-week notices via email.
- Communicate how this change will make their life easier or better. The best way to get people on board is to explain what’s in it for them. How will this tool make your client’s life easier? Make sure to explain this reasoning in your client notices, as mentioned in #1.
- Offer to walk your client through it. Offer training or additional help via the product’s support team or through one of your practice’s employees. This step may not always be necessary, but having the option is helpful when making transitions (and a great way to get facetime with a valuable customer.)
- Designate a point of contact clients should contact for questions regarding the program or process. This person is usually a member of your staff (but in some instances, the software provider may be available to support). It’s also important to establish a point person for documenting issues that inevitably arise or get reported, especially as clients get comfortable with the program.
Remember, you set the tone for transitions. Clients will follow your lead, so make sure you set a clear timeframe, provide plenty of notice, and offer resources to help make adjustments easier.
Continuously evaluating and improving your operations can go a long way in building lasting relationships with all of your clients, both old and new. By investing time and effort to create an outstanding client experience, you’re investing in your practice and committing to the long-term success of your customers.