[IMGCAP(1)]Do you really know what your clients think of your firm, staff and services? Would they consider putting their work up for review? Are you meeting all their needs?

Keeping a client is much less costly than getting a new one. But even the best client relationships can be improved. Many times you won’t know when your best clients are unhappy and considering other providers. In a time when clients are looking for the best value for their dollar more than ever, many of your strongest accounts could be at risk, and you won’t know it until it’s too late.

In my discussions with various firms, I’m finding this happening again and again.

Professional service providers, and their counterparts in corporate America, are notoriously non-confrontational. Many firms go about their daily work thinking their client relationships are just fine. And sometimes they are. But I’m hearing that many professional services clients are looking for ways to cut costs and increase value, and rather than talk to their current firm about it, they are shopping around for a better deal.

This client bleed often can be avoided by simply engaging your key clients in a meaningful dialogue about the services your firm provides, the price they pay for those services and how improvements can be made, if necessary.

In some instances, this is as easy as having the client manager meet with your clients and touch base on their account. These meetings can uncover valuable information about how well you are meeting their needs, and if they think those on the account are the right fit. Oftentimes, you will discover ways in which you can offer new services to better meet their needs. But if there are problems to discuss, clients may feel uncomfortable talking about them with you.

This is why it is important to have an outside vendor, with knowledge about your industry and services, conduct these interviews. Clients are much more likely to speak freely with someone outside of your firm. Even if you use internal staff members that are not on that particular account, they are still put in the awkward situation of sharing potentially uncomfortable news with their peers or supervisors, and the message — and ramifications of it —  can get diluted.

By making a small investment in your key clients, they will know that their business is important to you, and you take their opinions seriously. In addition, you’ll receive valuable feedback about your services and uncover ways to improve them. If an issue arises, you can address it immediately, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of their expectations and learn if you are meeting and exceeding them. Sometimes you even discover untapped areas where you can extend your services and add further value to the client as well. Ultimately, your clients will know that you value their relationship and your professional ties will be strengthened.

Regardless of how you do it, checking in with your clients is always worth the investment.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is the president of BBR Marketing. For more information, visit www.bbrmarketing.com.

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