By Rob Nixon
When you get a lead for a new client you are so excited. It’s almost like a potential new love has entered your life.
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To seal the deal you really woo the potential client in the dating period and you dance for a few weeks while you make all sorts of promises. Finally they commit to being engaged to you and the client agrees to your promises and charm. You are even more excited.
The moment of truth is about to happen – marriage. The client signs your engagement letter and you send the mandatory "ethical clearance letter" to the other accountant.
Although you may not show it at the time, you may be having a party on the inside, your excitement levels hit an all-time high. You are ecstatic – you have just signed a new $20,000+ per year client and you proudly tell your other partners of your lovemaking and courting prowess. They are equally impressed and they secretly wish they had your skills because they did not bring in any new clients this week.
And then it turns horribly wrong.
The client thought you would be doing the work (you didn’t tell them otherwise), however they are handed off to an underling they have not met – sometimes the work is outsourced overseas without the client even knowing. The front office customer service while dealing with the firm is less than cordial – you never met that person either. The initial work takes an inordinate amount of time to get done (again you didn’t tell them otherwise), with constant back and fort’ of information needed (why can’t they do it in one go, your client wonders). Finally the draft work arrives in the mail for signing and then a finished copy arrives some weeks later.
During the course of the year the client calls you from time to time, however they hesitate to because every time they do, they get a bill. When the client comes to see you they do not spend much time on chit chat, they get right down to business because they know you charge by the hour. You told the client you would be proactive in your advice yet all the client ever receives is a useless newsletter and letters from time to time when the government changes the compliance rules. You never randomly call the client to see how they are doing and heaven forbid you never visit the client – you would have to charge for that!
You say you have good relationships with your clients yet how can you, when you deal with them in this way? How can you have a good relationship when you only see your clients once or twice per year? Imagine what sort of a relationship you would have at home if you saw your loved ones only once or twice per year. (Some would say it would be better!)
Building enduring client relationships is all about how you deal with your clients and how you communicate with them.
So how do you define a great client relationship? I think a definition of a great client relationship is when clients call you before they do things where you are the expert.
To get to that point you need two key things in place.
- A consistent communication schedule
- Performance standards of how you work together
An example of a consistent communication schedule would be.
- An annual general meeting – to focus on the past year and plan the next year
- Quarterly nurturing meetings – to see how business is, add value and discover new opportunities
- Phone calls every 6-8 weeks – to touch base and see how business is
- Sporadic "thinking of you" emails/letters/phone calls – to show that you care
- Adding more time at the end of every "presentation of work meeting" to have a one-on-one client advisory board meeting
- Invitation to your group-based client advisory board meetings
- Monthly newsletter – quality articles and case studies
- Not charging for quick emails and general phone calls
- Social media updates – blog, Twitter etc.
- Invitations to seminars and events
The more communication you have with your clients the better the relationship you will have, the more they will buy from you and the more they will refer.
From the outset you need client service performance standards. Your performance standards will define the way you work with your clients. Once you have developed your performance standards (remember it is your business so you design them any way you want), you should promote them at every opportunity. In particular as part of your client induction process each client should be stepped through each performance standard.
Here is an example of 12 critical performance standards that you can R&D – rip off and duplicate!
It’s a sea of sameness out there when it comes to accounting firms. Each one looks and acts the same. If you want to differentiate, then it will not be via the quality of your work. Each firm says its work is of the highest quality yet how would the client know if it is or it is not when you have a disclaimer on everything – you don’t even think the work is correct!
The only way that you can differentiate is by building an enduring relationship with the client while giving them outstanding client service.