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No news is not good news: Prevent losing big clients with an interview program

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September 6, 2011

Many firms have lost a top-ten client to a competitor during the past year. Most of these firms subscribed to the “no news is good news” theory. However, looking back, they usually learn from the experience and acknowledge they could have done something differently. Despite this, few are willing to take significant steps to preventing it in the future. So, if you are serious about guarding against preventable client losses, consider a basic client interview program. And there is no better time to execute it than in the fourth quarter, right after 10/15.

There are four basic steps to successfully implementing a client interview program:

•    Client identification
•    Debrief with the relationship partner
•    The interview
•    Follow up on issues and opportunities

Start by identifying your top clients by revenue generated. I realize that many time and billing systems can make this an onerous task, especially if you haven’t set up groups to bundle related entities and individuals. The exercise of identifying top clients, and top client groups can be an eye-opening experience for some firms who didn’t realize how many eggs they had in one basket.

Next, the person who will be doing the interview debriefs with the primary relationship partner on the client. (Please note, anyone who directly serves the client should not be doing the interview – it should always be someone else from the firm to increase the reliability of the interview results.)

Before you head out to interview the client, be sure to understand the dynamics of the relationship, length of service, types of services used, service team members, and any known past or current issues, challenges or opportunities. This debrief will enable the interviewer to have a solid understanding of the situation.

Then, go out and interview the client. Ask the client to rate the service team on communication, responsiveness, willingness to help, attitude, quality, timeliness, and more. Some good questions that assess the overall relationship are:

•    Do they receive value from your services?
•    Is the firm proactive?
•    Does the firm make the client feel important?

Finally, ask if there is anything the firm could be doing differently and if there are other services needed. There are literally dozens of questions that can work well in a face-to-face interview, but your interview should always be constructed to be completed in no more than an hour. (For a list of the top 10 client interview questions, please send me an email and I’d be happy to get these to you.)

Lastly, come back to the office and have a candid discussion with the primary relationship partner. Discuss any service concerns, changes that would make the client happier, and opportunities for additional services. Create a plan to address each issue/opportunity and follow-up with the client as soon as possible.

Top clients deserve the best we can give them and more. In addition to the best service team, priority handling, and constant communication, you should have an honest and open discussion annually about satisfaction and ways to improve. Of course, you can always just hope the client is satisfied and abide by the “no news is good news” philosophy. Unfortunately, that ultimately can become “no news is bad news” and before you realize it, “no news = no longer a client.”

Art Kuesel, director of practice growth and marketing consulting services for Koltin Consulting Group, helps CPA firms across the country hone and maximize their growth plans, build effective marketing and sales efforts, coach partners and managers to greater success and add revenue to the top line. Koltin Consulting serves CPA, law and financial advisory firms with strategic growth, M&A services, executive recruiting and management consulting services. Art can be reached at 312-662-6010 or akuesel@koltin.com.

Comments (1)
Thanks for this great outline on a client interview program. I agree, it's unvaluable!
Posted by ivalverde@gscpa.com | Tuesday, September 13 2011 at 12:55PM ET
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