Experience has shown that clients who are satisfied with your service pay and will pay quicker than those who are not satisfied. The second part of my experience is that if you can make money for your clients, they will pay you even more. While most firms today are concerned about client satisfaction and loyalty, few have a goal of making more money for their clients.

What makes clients happy?

Based on my personal experience and research I have seen, there are several factors that make clients happy. Here are the most common ones mentioned:

1. Communication. The more you communicate with clients, the happier they will be. It seems that you can never have enough communication with clients, provided it is always client-centered. In other words, you always want to be discussing the client's needs and concerns, not your services.

2. Responsiveness. In today's world of 24/7, clients expect and demand even more responsiveness to their calls, e-mails and even text messages. While this can pose a certain amount of stress on the service provider, it is critical that you allocate time during the day and even weekends to respond to client requests. If a client contacts you on the weekend, you should assume that it's important and respond immediately.

3. Value for fees. Value is in the eyes of the client. A client pays $800 for a tax return preparation, and she wonders what value (benefits) she received for what she just paid. The value may just be peace of mind, rather than any actual tax savings. It's up to you to constantly explain the benefits the client is receiving, and not spend time explaining how you do things.

4. Accuracy. Mistakes in one area, such as typos, sloppy reports, etc., give the perception of mistakes in other areas. While your quality of advice may be superior, the lack of accuracy in your reports gets the client thinking about the overall quality and accuracy of your work.

5. Timeliness. Doing what you said you would do and doing it on time. Meeting client expectations for turn-around and delivery is a key component for making a client happy. Each client has different expectations. You need to ask each client what they expect from the relationship.

6. Specialized knowledge. The more specialized knowledge you have, the more satisfied the client tends to be. Specialization is the buzz word of the day. Clients want to know that you have more than just general tax or accounting knowledge. They want you to understand their industry or niche issue.

There is one critical element that is missing from this list and I would suggest that it is how much more profitable you made the client during the last year. How would focusing on client profitability change the way you operate, the way you compensate owners and the firm's net income?

 

FOCUS ON THEIR PROFITABILITY

The traditional way of ranking firm clients is inward-looking. "A" clients are those who pay us the most, "B" clients fall next in line and "C" clients last. But there is another way of looking at your clients, and it's outward- rather than inward-looking

If you really want to make your clients happy, make them more money, save them from poor business mistakes and provide them the comfort to sleep well at night. One of the most important activities an owner of a firm can do is to figure out how to make their clients more successful, and then implement that plan.

Imagine how your entire firm would now operate and the skills that owners would have to develop in order to implement such a strategy. In this new world, an A client would be one where you have been very successful in helping the client improve their profitability. They would tell you that they are making more money than they ever dreamed possible.

B clients are improving but still have a way to go and the C clients need a lot of help. Wouldn't you want your firm to be known as the firm that makes its clients richer?

The important thing about this rating is that it puts the emphasis on the client's profitability and not on the fees that the firm charges. You cannot develop best-in-class client service when you are just thinking about yourself.

 

TURNING WORDS INTO ACTION

Unless your compensation system is tied into the profitability of your clients, you won't be able to change the existing culture in the firm. You would think that owners would realize that by helping their clients succeed, they would be making more money for themselves. Sure sounds like a win-win situation to me. Why then is it hard for firms to make the change?

First of all, this criterion is not usually part of partner compensation. So the first thing you need to do is add it to the list. Second, you need to set up measures and targets for determining success. For example:

Did the service save the client from paying additional taxes or reduce estate taxes?

Did it improve productivity?

Since most CPA firms work with closely held or family-held businesses, how well do you understand the client's personal and business needs? What happens to the business also happens to the individual.

Did your service save the client from an unpleasant or costly situation? You assist your client in exiting a business and save him not only a lot of money but also much mental anguish.

Many accountants don't think they can have an impact on their client's profitability. While only 20 percent of the work we do can have such an impact, we need to focus more on doing that type of work than the traditional compliance work. Henry Ford said, "Whether a man thinks he can or thinks he can't, he's probably right." We need to start thinking that we can. Develop the new skills and start providing them to your clients!

 

August Aquila helps CPA firms improve their operations by focusing on leadership, compensation design issues, mergers and overall partner issues. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or aaquila@aquilaadvisors.com.

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