Because a large part of an accountant's day revolves around numbers and compliance, soft skills such as customer service are overlooked all-too-often.
But customer service is a “make or break” factor for any business in today’s world, where a single disgruntled client can ruin a firm’s reputation.
Increasingly, clients are basing their likelihood to buy and recommend services on who delivers the best experience. Establishing and maintaining an excellent customer service reputation doesn’t need to be difficult.
Here are some ways to improve customer service, and the client experience, at your firm.
Over the last 12 months, clients have accrued a lot of experience interacting virtually with accounting firms and every other service provider. And as a result, their behaviors and expectations evolved.
Before the online migration was accelerated, accounting firms were exceeding client expectations with initiatives like flawless onboarding experiences. But now, these offerings that once differentiated one firm from the next have become an expectation.
So, it’s a good idea to review your current client interaction touchpoints and see if your tech and processes stack up to what your clients and prospects are expecting. For example, are you signing on a new client with all the promises of a modern accounting experience and then asking them to scan or fax a signed contract?
You can streamline your processes in several ways with tech, delivering benefits for both clients and staff. Today, you can send and e-sign documents securely, and use tools like Karbon to automate manual tasks like data collection, and make client meeting notes easily accessible across teams.
Know what to improve and what to keep by remembering that the goal of customer service is to enhance the client’s experience, not create more problems and work.
Even if you feel your client communication strategy has always been solid, it’s a good idea to check in; your clients’ needs may have changed. For example, studies show that more customers now expect multichannel service. Plus, many small businesses are still navigating the fallout from COVID-19 and require hands-on support.
Consider opening up new lines of communication so clients can quickly reach a representative at your firm when they have questions.
There are several ways to provide communication services, such as:
Regular client meetings: Clients will appreciate knowing they can connect with their accountant at their next scheduled meeting.
Email: Can you realistically guarantee an email turnaround time? Set up an auto-reply that reassures clients that their questions will be answered quickly.
Chat boxes and text services: Text-based customer service is growing in popularity, with some customers preferring it to chat pop-ups.
Video FAQs: Weed out the most common questions with video, using a tool such as Loom, and screen-share explanations.
An often overlooked aspect of optimizing customer service is improving internal processes, like internal communication. Organizing client information, making it accessible, and enabling staff to leave notes about a client’s account are all ways to ease operations for staff that ultimately benefit the client.
Every once in a while, and certainly following a significant cultural shift, it’s a good idea to map out your client’s journey through your firm. You can be as detailed as you like, but avoid skipping any significant steps.
Recommended reading: Onboarding new clients to your accounting firm best practices
Often it’s a firm’s leaders who have a decent grasp on their clients’ journeys when it should be company-wide knowledge. To better serve clients, everyone at your firm should be able to answer the following questions:
Where are our clients coming from?
What brought them to need our services?
What inspired them to choose us over the competition?
What is the experience like from onboarding to delivery?
If any of these questions are unclear, or if it’s been a while since you last received feedback, it may be time to ask the clients. Surveys and interviews can provide valuable insights into clients’ feelings and experiences.
Many firms save feedback until the end of the engagement with a client, but you can (and should) request feedback at several points in the journey to get the complete picture.
To avoid spamming your clients with questionnaires, keep surveys short, make them easy to complete, and limit how many times you question a single client.
Recommended reading: Measuring your firm’s client satisfaction using NPS
Once you have a solid understanding of the customer and their journey, you can look at each step with clarity and confidently justify where improvements can be made. Every firm’s customer journey will have high-value and low-value touchpoints.
Optimize your high-value customer service touchpoints, like client meetings and follow-ups, with human interaction and professional touches. Humanizing certain steps nurtures loyalty and reinforces relationships after the prospect becomes a client.
Outsource your low-value touchpoints to automation technology wherever possible. This will allow you to simplify menial operations, freeing up time for more important tasks. If your client research finds they value fast, direct human interaction, give your team the time to make themselves available.
The value of high-quality customer service cannot be stressed enough, and there are no shortcuts to building an excellent reputation.
Though much of good customer service may seem obvious, it takes work to make sure every member of the firm is upholding your customer service values.
Review your firm’s practices and client feedback regularly, and keep up with technology and expectations. To succeed in today’s market, build a firm with customer service at its core.