How to engage NextGen clients

Is your firm prepared for millennial clients? And can you anticipate the changing needs of a tech-focused generation?

Speaking at a session during the AICPA's 2019 Engage Conference this week, Jennifer Wilson, co-founder and partner at ConvergenceCoaching, asked attendees what their firms are doing to prepare for their next generation of clients.

"The face of the client is changing, and I'm worried firm leaders aren't paying attention to that," she said. "Complaining isn't going to change anything."

Wilson stressed that as a starting point, understanding NextGen buyers starts online.

"They say NextGen clients won't call you until they check at least seven digital references [online]. If part of your reference is a LinkedIn profile with no picture and no connections, that's a bad digital reference. The more online content you have ... the more likely they are to call you."

This year, the amount of millennials eclipsed the number of baby boomers in the U.S. for the first time. By 2030, Wilson said, all baby boomers will be over the age of 65. "This applies to your clients too," she stressed. "[But] it doesn't matter what you know; it matters what you do."

To prepare a firm for NextGen clients, Wilson suggested building a future-ready firm "without alienating the traditionalists."

"Invest in a NextGen client experience while still supporting the wants and needs of your mature clients," she said. By educating mature clients on market shifts and helping them address the changes they need to make in their businesses, you are making your clients and your eventual clients future-ready, Wilson added.

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Wilson also listed seven motivators for NextGen clients: change, flexibility, efficiency, empowerment/autonomy, transparency, technology and service. "They want to be sure you know what you're talking about," she explained. "You have to ask, 'Are we prepared, as a firm, to deliver these motivators?'"

Wilson also urged attendees to understand the generational makeup of their client base. Wilson suggested that by using data extraction, a list of a firm's clients can be pulled and used to identify which client contacts are nearing retirement and who their successors are. That way, once a successor has been identified, a member of the firm can build a new relationship with that person. "We are not stopping and understanding the people around [older clients]," Wilson said. "We need to bring our young people into our meetings and ask clients to bring their young people. Please, let's double-date from now on!"

Wilson asked attendees to consider their firm's accessibility and web presence, along with their service convenience, buying experience, and personalization (that is, how customized their experience is) to draw in new clients.

"You can't personalize your client experience without gathering data," she pointed out. "Firms are not valuing data. ... [It] is really undervalued and mismanaged."

Wilson suggested that firms contract with a data company or hire a data steward to fix potential gaps as part of a broader strategy to "think digital for everything" and to transform the firm's technology. "If you think your IT people are going to change the way you deliver your technology [to clients], that's an unfair ask," Wilson pointed out.

Most of all, Wilson urged attendees to communicate with their clients now about NextGen issues, before it's too late. "Your clients are going to go out of business if they don't know how to serve NextGen clients," she said. "Tell them what you've done so far and take the time to get your data cleaned up."

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