Your clients want your firm to do more than just prepare tax returns. Today’s accounting firm needs to be a trusted financial advisor to clients. You need to deliver accounting advisory services as well as maximize the quality of your firm’s overall client experience.
Broadening the reach of your offerings is critical. Still, there’s a lot more to optimizing the client experience than just developing new services. Moving toward client advisory and accounting services (CAAS) is a must for any firm that wants to grow. It could be the difference between a firm that thrives and one that shrivels and dies.
But CAAS can only fully succeed if you put other practices in place to support it. Clients need to know that you’re competent, but what they really want is to trust you. And trust comes from more than just expanding CAAS options. It’s something your firm fosters every day and every time you have contact with a client.
There are three essential areas you need to consider when revamping your firm’s client experience. They overlap quite a bit and serve as supports for each other.
The first factor you need to consider before you move to the others is how you run your firm. Your internal processes largely dictate the type of external image you present. That image begins with having the right technology in place.
No customer of any business likes to wait for anything, and your clients are no exception. You’re dealing with critical financial data. Clients need you to answer their questions without hesitation and at just about any time. You can do that when you run your key business and tax applications in the cloud.
The cloud enables you and your clients to securely access their data at any time and from anywhere. The data is always up to date, and there are no issues with version control. Your firm, working with a cloud provider, can establish a secure online environment. You and your clients can use it to communicate privately and easily without restrictions on timing or geography. Ultimately, clients get what they need when they want it.
Ease of access to information and enhanced security in the cloud provide the basis for a relationship of trust between you and your clients. Email is notably insecure. Portable storage devices are as well. Even exchanging information on paper isn’t totally safe. A cloud partner’s security professionals and top-flight data centers provide the same level of security big banks enjoy. It’s a level of protection other entities wish they had.
You can also use technology to work more efficiently. Document management in the cloud, for instance, enables you to organize secure access to files. You always know where the right file is when you need it. But document management has other benefits too. You can establish workflows that clearly lay out employee responsibilities, track projects, and minimize time-wasting, repetitive tasks.
When your firm works faster and more efficiently, you can offer more rapid responses to queries. You can also reinforce the image of a firm that’s organized, reliable and always available. All of that builds trust among your client base. But you need the right technology in place to make it all happen.
Your clients, whether they’re individuals or businesses, likely have a lot of contractors working for them. Think cleaning companies, landscapers and coffee suppliers. (Ideally, one of those partners will be a cloud provider.) Your firm can be just another 1099 form for your clients—or you can be a whole lot more.
It’s true that the demand for tax preparation isn’t likely to decline anytime soon. However, the fact is that online tax services have been eating away at accountants’ business for years. Artificial intelligence (AI) also looms on the far horizon as a possible—although not immediate—threat. In any case, lots of firms offer adequate tax services. Those that want to thrive need to offer more.
You are in a position to make your firm absolutely essential to your clients for more than just a few months a year. Your firm will benefit when you do. Getting serious about accounting advisory services enables you to reduce your dependence on revenue from tax season. It also eases the annual burden you and your employees carry at the beginning of every calendar year.
Diversifying services can absolutely revolutionize your firm. You can improve work-life balance, recruit and retain more and better employees, and generally improve your overall culture. You can also drive revenue by offering a wide array of accounting advisory services that improve your “stickiness” with clients.
If your firm is their go-to for benefits planning, retirement planning, succession planning or other services, you become a lifeline for your clients. You’re not just another contractor. Your clients put down deep roots with you that they won’t want to pull up because they trust you to run so many aspects of their businesses.
A stable client base that produces year-round revenue ultimately puts your firm in a position to make more money by doing less work. Sure, you’ll need to ramp up new accounting advisory services. But once they’re up and running, you’ll be able to spend less time courting clients and less time constantly looking for or trying to keep employees. Happier employees and stickier clients lead to better client service and deeper client relationships. All of that makes your firm more stable and easier to manage.
You’ll want to keep the many factors in mind when moving to CAAS, but a few key things to remember are:
With the right technology and services in place, you can concentrate on dealing with clients on a personal level. You’ve no doubt had a lot of practice in this area already. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with clients face to face, whether that happens in person or via a video call.
Keep in mind that most, and possibly all, of your clients want your firm to be more than just an accounting firm. Or, perhaps more succinctly, they want you to be more than what they likely consider an accountant to be—a basic preparer of tax returns.
Clients already trust you with all of their most important data. Chances are they would love to have you do more than just their taxes. They don’t want to have to deal with multiple contractors or providers. That’s especially true when exchanging critical information is necessary to the relationship. Don’t be afraid to sell them on more than just what you’re doing for them right now. They want you to sell them.
Ultimately, everything comes down to trust. When you have the broad range of services your clients desire and the technology in place to enable you to serve clients, you have a solid foundation for building relationships. Look for new ways to build trust and let your clients know you’re there for them.
Even when you don’t “have” to, consider sending a survey to gauge their satisfaction with your firm. And ask what they’d like you to do—or not do. Hold client appreciation events where you offer clients a bit of a treat. A party, dinner or night at a sporting event or show might work. Virtual events work, too. Right Networks once held a virtual cocktail-making class with staffers that went over very well. Arranging for catering or throwing a party isn’t always necessary.
Remind clients of your expertise by sending them updates on trends in taxes and accounting—as well as in their own industry or profession. This is a fairly non-invasive way to demonstrate value to clients without overwhelming them with advertising or marketing messages. It’s like a note from a trusted partner.
Some accounting firms don’t think enough about client service, but it’s critical to the success of your firm. The more you can establish your firm as absolutely essential to your clients’ business, the more your firm will thrive. It’s what you want for your firm—and what your clients want from you as well.
Improving client service starts in the cloud. Make the move today.
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