Every CPA we meet is committed to delivering exceptional client service. However, as we embark on one of the busiest times of the year, it’s easy to get caught in a transactional rut working on client engagements and miss the opportunity to spend a few minutes on your relationship with each of your clients. Since client retention has consistently been one of the top five issues for CPAs in recent AICPA Top Issues Surveys, the extra few minutes you spend learning more about your client and finding ways to deepen your relationship with them will help you retain them – and increase the value they receive - long term.
Furthering your relationship and learning more about your client doesn’t have to take a long time. Consider asking two simple questions while you’re meeting or speaking with your clients:
- What are your plans or goals for yourself and/or your business for the next six months?
- What challenges do you anticipate that you’ll need to address?
When you ask these simple questions, you demonstrate your care and concern for the individual and their organization. It also tells your client that your relationship expands beyond the immediate tax return, financial statements or audit that you have been engaged to perform. Those who ask these types of questions often report that they are surprised by how delighted their clients are that they took the time to ask!
When you ask these two questions, be sure that you then:
- Listen attentively to the answers, looking for information on how you can help your client achieve their goals or solve any potential problems they may have.
- Document what you heard in their client file, your firm’s customer relationship management system or another means to help you remember what they said for the future. Also, share it with other appropriate parties so they can be in the loop on that client’s objectives and needs.
- Follow up at the right time depending on the nature of the client’s response and their timing. Sometimes immediate follow up is required, which does mean taking the extra time needed to help them, write a proposal or refer them to the person in your firm or another referral source that can help them. But often, the follow up can be scheduled for a later date, which is why it’s even more important to document what you heard so you remember it later. Take a moment to schedule a follow up call or meeting while you’re speaking to your client – or create a task for yourself in Outlook – so that it is on your calendar, ensuring that follow up will occur.
When you take the time to proactively check in with your clients about their goals and anticipated challenges, you will likely identify new ways to serve them now or in the future, increase your value to them, and remain top of mind when your competitors begin calling on your clients this spring. Take a few minutes to ask these two simple questions and let us know what kind of response you get. And, if you have other strategies that you employ to deepen your client relationships during busy season, please post a comment and share them with us and others!
Thanks for this...I assume this could be the first step in building a team of strategic partners to assist clients with their challenges?
Yes, Malcolm, these are simple steps towards being your clients' trusted adviser - or consultant - instead of just a reporter of historical information. And, this is the kind of relationship clients value and want, so we should be rigorous in our expectations of our partners and managers who are the client relationship managers to take the time to develop these kinds of relationships. You - and they - will be glad you did! Thank you for commenting and I look forward to hearing about your progress!
You're absolutely right Tamera. Clients sometimes test if you are sincere in everything you are saying, not to mention that whatever the decision is, it all depends on how you approach them.
These questions lead to deeper conversations. We try to take the question of where do you plan to be in six months and then ask them what their ultimate goal for the company is (ie. stay small, get venture capital, sell, add partners ect.)