You can’t expect to retain clients without a strong relationship with your clients. Always get to know who they are as a person and identify what their needs are early on in the process. Retaining clients is important to the success of your firm. Acquiring new clients can often be more pricey in the long run. If you've done the hard work and found your ideal and niche client base, it's important to make sure they stay on with you through the years. So, how can you make sure your clients won't go looking elsewhere for their accounting needs? Follow these six steps.
1. Always communicate
First, get a sense of how they act in meetings — are they straight to the point or do they express interest in sharing details of their lives and knowing more about you? Read the room and respond accordingly! You don’t want to probe a client that is more reserved, and you also don’t want to detract from a client that appreciates a few minutes of conversation unrelated to work.
Next, ensure that you have a full understanding of what their needs and goals are, and work towards addressing them. Communicate with your client often about their goals and progress and always keep your client’s best interest at the forefront of your relationship. Make sure the communication channels you are building can go both ways — it's important for your client to know you are open to hearing from them and receiving feedback on what you can do to better serve their needs.
2. Be genuine
Genuineness and transparency are conveyed to clients through how we communicate. Transparency is especially important in an accounting firm because accountants deal with personal financial information — something that most people feel extremely protective of. The more open you are with a client, the easier it is to build a strong foundation of trust with them.
Every strong relationship is based on trust — accountant-client relationships included. An especially important time to be transparent is with your pricing and fees. Clients will not be happy if the cost of your services comes as a surprise to them partway through the process. Discussing pricing prior to any services being performed puts you and your client on the same page from the beginning.
Be sure to keep clients in the loop throughout the process; notify them of any changes happening, both good and bad. For example, let's say after you look into your client's tax situation, you discover they don't actually qualify for the deductions they hoped. Let them know right away. Honesty and owning up to your mistakes are always appreciated in dealing with unexpected outcomes, even if the news is sometimes unpleasant. There may be times where you make a mistake, and if that does happen, own it. It’s helpful to provide an action plan following the update that can offer a solution to the issue at hand.
3. Maintain a positive attitude
No one wants to work with or seek a service out from someone who is unpleasant or difficult. Whether you work for a firm or own your own accounting business, you are still providing a service to the public. Therefore, you should strive to offer excellent customer service. As part of this, maintaining a positive attitude is essential.
This isn’t to say that you can’t be genuine with your feelings and must always be positive. Avoid downplaying a serious situation or issue, but also be cautious with how you convey information to your client. They are looking to you for guidance and how you choose to present information is critical. If you’re stressed or upset, the client will be stressed and upset.
That said, you do not have to put up with toxic clients. If you have a client that is causing you unnecessary stress, problems, and refuses to improve themselves, it may be time to part ways with that client. If you find yourself in this situation, learn how to fire a client the right way.
4. Demonstrate your expertise
Your client is relying on you to help them navigate through the world of accounting and IRS policies. Being open about your professional opinion regarding projects will help instill transparency with the client, as well as reassuring them that you are acting in their best interest.
While this may not always be the most comfortable conversation to have, it’s okay to disagree with a client! It won’t help you or your client in the long-run if you only tell them what they want to hear versus your professional advice on the matter. Demonstrate your expertise in an honest and genuine way, and you’ll see that this will help you with developing relationships with clients for long-term growth.
It helps to build trust with clients by sharing your knowledge and being a resource for them to turn to for help on matters they’re unfamiliar with. Letting clients learn from your experience can also help them feel more connected to the projects and better understand the progress you are making. In turn, this can help improve engagement and trust in a professional relationship.
5. Set realistic expectations and deliver
It’s easy to go above and beyond for every client request, especially so early on in a working relationship. We get it, you want to make a promising first impression and prove your ability to do quality work! However, it’s important to set expectations that are realistic to avoid over-promising and under-delivering or creating burn-out.
If the client has unreasonable expectations, you may need to have a conversation to reset those expectations or part ways if you can’t provide them with that service.
6. Hold your clients accountable
This may not be talked about often, but it’s especially important to hold your clients accountable as much as they (and you) hold you accountable. Accountants will need to engage and request information from their clients, it’s inevitable. There may be a document you’ve requested several times which they haven’t sent you or a signature you need to be able to file documents. At the end of the day, their engagement is necessary for the success of the project.