When I teach topics like deepening client relationships and delivering exceptional client service, I discuss the importance of proactively meeting with clients outside of your regular engagement to further your relationship, identify any potential service issues and uncover new opportununities to add value. Participants nod their heads in agreement and some even approach this discussion as “We already know this and have been doing it for years.” However, when I ask how many clients they proactively call – or better yet, meet with – eyes move towards the floor or I receive a reply that they’re going to get them scheduled after the next deadline. So, my question for you is, how many “out of cycle” client meetings or phone calls did you make to clients this summer that were not related to a current engagement?
In reality, most of us are not disciplined at doing this, yet client retention was named the number one issue in 2009 for firms of ALL sizes in the AICPA PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. One thing that keeps us from addressing this concern is that proactively outreaching to clients falls in what Stephen R. Covey defines in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as Quadrant II tasks – those that are important and not urgent. Unless we owe the clients something now, or they have a problem or complaint, our tendency is to put off any outreach and let proactive client outreach fall to the bottom of our list week after week. Another reason is that we sometimes make up that “no news is good news” – if we don’t hear from our clients, then everything is okay. The opposite may very well be the case, though, as Ken Blanchard points out in his book, Raving Fans – the silence should be worrisome to us.
So, break the silence. Uncover ways you can increase your value to your clients and deepen your relationship with them. You can do so simply by committing to reach out to one client a week (or be bold by calling one and having lunch with a second!). When my CPA firm clients have done this, they have been surprised by how thrilled – and surprised – their clients are to have their CPA calling them or asking to have lunch to just check in!
When you meet with your clients, ask questions that demonstrate your interest in them and build your relationship with them, including:
• How are things going in your business (or your life) these days?
• What changes are there in your team (or your life)?
• What concerns you most (at work) today?
• What critical decisions are you facing?
• What opportunities are you facing at present?
• What plans do you have to capitalize on them?
• How can we be of more help to you?
• How are we doing for you?
• What can we improve?
• Would you be willing to be a reference for us?
When you take the time to check in with your clients, you’ll find new service opportunities to pursue, which may help get your people busy. You’ll also keep your firm top-of-mind with your clients when your competitors proactively reach out to them – and you can bet your competitors are proactively outreaching to them!
Fall is prime selling season, too, so while you’re in the midst of the “second busy season” this year, consider asking each client owner in your firm to set a goal to meet with a certain number of clients each week between now and the end of the year. Discuss the results during your regular sales pipeline meetings, being sure to add any new services opportunities you identify as a result of a client meeting to your pipeline. Or, schedule a monthly lunch with your client service owners to share successes, troubleshoot any objections or client service issues that may be raised, and plan for any follow up that you committed to your clients.
What are you doing to deepen your relationships with your clients? How are you uncovering ways to increase your value to them to help them solve their problems or reach their goals? Please post a comment and share so we can learn from your successes!