When it comes to client relationships, Honkamp Krueger & Co.'s motto has always been, "Shop with clients who do business with us." To encourage employees to honor this mantra, it created the Client Patronage Program in 2010. It's a program where HK's partners reward firm employees when they shop at clients' establishments.

To get things started, the Dubuque, Iowa-based Top 100 Firm used an internal directory, available via its intranet, to advertise retail clients, and employees submitted their receipts by entering the information into an Excel spreadsheet. Depending on the amount of receipts handed in and the total amount spent at client's establishments, individual Honkamp's employees are rewarded for participating in the program. After three years the firm recorded more than $6 million in spending after roughly 25,000 receipts had been submitted.

The program was clearly a success -- but it was taking a lot of manual effort and time to collect all of the receipts and do all of the calculations. To make the process easier, the firm moved the Client Patronage Program into the digital age and created the HK Client Patronage App, which launched in the spring of 2014. The app allows employees to track and submit their spending after they capture images of their receipts on their mobile devices when they shop at one of their clients' stores, to prove their eligibility for the program's rewards.

HK's managing partner, Greg Burbach, gives credit to the firm's marketing manager, Nicole Gantz, and Natalie Hoffmann, the partner-in-charge in the firm's technology department, for coming up with the idea. "It was an easy decision, especially since we have a very young workforce," Burbach recalled. "When Nicole and Natalie came to me with the app idea, it just made a lot of sense to do it."

"When Greg became managing partner [in January 2010], the first thing he wanted to do was formalize the [Client Patronage Program] and give the marketing department the resources to encourage [employees] to shop at clients, track back and reward them," Gantz explained. "We knew we wanted to do some type of app and we believe we are a pretty innovative firm. We were able to turn the program into an app and it saved us an enormous amount of time in the marketing department. It also encouraged more people to use it because people love using their mobile phones."

Creating the app was definitely a win for HK. "We saw an immediate increase in receipts being received in the marketing department," said Hoffmann. "There was a 43 percent increase of utilization." Nearly six months after the HK Client Patronage App launched, the firm captured more than $1.6 million worth of receipts. The successful numbers are also used as a sales tool, where HK can show prospective clients how much money the firm employees spend with retail and service clients throughout the year.

 

REAPING REWARDS

HK employees are rewarded with prizes for their committed patronage of the firm's clients. "Employees have a lot of fun with it," Gantz shared. "They have sidebar conversations of 'Where can we go today? Where can I shop with clients?'"

[IMGCAP(1)]Some of the HK employees turn the fun into friendly competition. They want to see who can spend more or who can get more receipts from clients. Every month, the firm gives out a prize to the person who spent the most amount of money at clients' stores. The firm also awards prizes to the two employees who submitted the most receipts. "The more receipts you put in, the more you have a chance," said Gantz.

HK currently has approximately 400 employees, and 44 percent of them use the Client Patronage App. For those who are not as tech-savvy, the firm created a Web interface where employees can take care of their receipts in the office, instead of on their mobile devices. "We trained all of our staff when we first launched the app," said Hoffmann. "We also have training sessions for all of the new-hire orientations. And for those who are having difficulties with the app, help is just a phone call away."

 

BUILDING THE APP

Hoffmann said that the key to building an app is to design what you are expecting upfront before starting the development process. "You have to think it through and go so far as to how it should look on the screen," she said. The entire process, from brainstorming to getting the app up and running, took about 10 months. The technology and marketing team got together and determined what was needed and what would make sense. Once the team figured out the functional design for the app, they outsourced it to an app developer.

The idea behind the app was more than just having an easier way to capture receipts. The vision was to have a directory for employees so that when they were outside of the office they could immediately locate clients within their proximity where they can shop. The plan also included a navigation system to direct them how to get to the stores of their clients. "We had to get the physical address with the longitude and latitude in order for the mapping to be accurate," said Hoffmann.

As part of building the app, HK's team went to the Web sites of all of its clients to get the description and place it into the app. The information includes whether each vendor provides discounts for Honkamp Kruger employees.

Because of confidentiality agreements with HK's clients, the HK Client Patronage App is only available to HK employees. The app can be seen in the App Store but unless you are employed by HK and have specific login credentials, you won't be able to access the list. "We have a database that is synchronized with our active directory that has all of our employees," explained Hoffmann. "As soon as somebody is not an employee here, their login is no longer valid."

 

CLIENTS

Most of HK's clients listed in the Client Patronage App are retailers and businesses that provide services. As an added bonus, some of the clients have promotions and discounts for HK employees. Clients include: apartment rentals; bookstores; car dealerships; carwashes; casinos; doctors; funeral homes; gas stations; insurance providers; legal representatives; nursing homes; restaurants; and retailers.

HK also has clients in the academic arena where their employees are allowed to submit tuition receipts through the Client Patronage App. "It's been a really great value proposition for our clients," said Burbach. "Our clients really appreciate that we do it and it does help us win some new clients."

Trying to remember every client in the app has its challenges. To help keep employees aware of all the clients that the firm has out there, Honkamp Krueger conducts daily huddles where it features a client everyday, reminding staff of what the client does and what they sell.

When new retail/service clients join the firm, HK sends out a package of participation informing them that they are in the program. "It's been a great customer service tool and client retention tool," said Gantz. "It really separates us from other CPA firms. A lot of firms say that they shop at their clients, but to take it to this level is unique for us."

 

AT A GLANCE

Firm: Honkamp Krueger & Co.

Headquarters: Dubuque, Iowa

Managing partner: Greg Burbach

No. of partners/staff: 31/405

Year founded: 1947

Services: Accounting and audit, business advisory services, franchise services, not-for-profit and government services, risk advisory, software solutions, talent outsourcing, tax, wealth management, and workforce management.

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