Building strong client relationships in your accounting firm is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful business. Happy clients who keep coming back for your services are what keeps your firm profitable. There are a lot of other demands on your time — getting work done, managing your team, developing business strategy, and more, but it’s important to fit developing relationships with clients into the rest of your workload.
Why is it important to build good relationships with clients? Developing strong relationships with clients is important because it can provide numerous benefits for your accounting firm. Not only is it less expensive to retain existing clients compared to acquiring new ones, a study conducted by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company shows that profits can increase up to 25-95% from increasing customer retention by 5% in your company. What’s not to love about that?
It is great to watch your accounting firm grow and to be given the chance for a fresh start even on such a small scale. Obviously you want to put your best foot forward and build good relationships with clients right from the start and the way to do that is to establish trust. Trust is the foundation of every successful, long-term relationship and can establish the opportunity for future growth.
Conduct an Intake Interview
There is a temptation, especially when a deadline is looming, to simply accept a new client sight unseen. Someone calls your office and says, “Hey, I need someone to help me set up an LLC.” You say, “I can do that. Bring all the necessary documents in anytime this week and we’ll get started.” You hang up the phone and get right back to what you were doing. You’re busy, right? You don’t have the time for a proper intake interview.
Of course, the problem is that without an intake interview, there’s no way to know if this new client is a good match for you and your firm. Instead, take the time—even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes—to have a conversation with a potential client.
At a minimum, you should get a feel for their financial situation and what they expect from you. In addition, you should give them an idea of what you expect from them—how you want documents and information delivered, the kind of response time you expect, and anything else you need to help your firm run like you want it to.
Don’t be afraid of losing potential clients at this stage. Though you may be tempted to take any business that comes your way, it’s actually good for your business to weed out a few people during the intake interview. Besides, you’ll find that most people are happy to help make your job a little easier if you just take the time to give them a few instructions.
Send an Engagement Letter
You should really be using engagement letters with all your clients, but it’s especially important with new clients. With existing clients you usually develop familiarity and a good working relationship over time. That familiarity can sometimes let you get away with not formalizing an engagement with an engagement letter. With new clients, you have none of that.
Some accountants worry that using an engagement letter for every engagement is cumbersome or too formal (or both). However, if you have a good engagement letter boilerplate and a fast way to get the letter sent and signed, it doesn’t have to be a long, painful process. And, by “keeping it informal,” you’re really just keeping both you and your client guessing.
Get expectations aligned from the outset, and you’ll enjoy smoother working relationships going forward.
Provide Excellent Communication
Trust is the foundation of every successful relationship both new and existing, and excellent communication is key to building trust with clients. It’s important to show them that your communication is consistent and reliable.
Demonstrate to them that you’re available to answer their questions when they reach out to you. Clients want to feel like a priority. They won't feel prioritized if it's hard for them to get in touch with you. Ask yourself, what is a reasonable timeframe that you can respond to client emails or calls? In the current digital age, most clients expect a fairly quick response to their questions.
As important as it is to respond to your clients promptly, it can also be daunting to manage back-and-forth emails and phone calls. Using an accounting practice management solution can help streamline the process and make it more manageable.
While being available when clients reach out is crucial, so is being proactive. Practice anticipating client questions and concerns, and communicate this with them before they contact you. Share updates, wins, and also areas for improvement, and do not sugar coat a situation.