Every firm wants to ensure its clients feel valued and cared for. But how do you go about achieving it? Often, clients will have very different experiences when working with different departments in the firm or from person to person. Today, we'll explore what it takes to deliver an exceptional client experience consistently and offer some tips on how you can get started.
Why client experience matters
Client experience is vital for any firm because it can make or break client relationships. That's always been true, but there are several reasons it's at the forefront today.
First, most firms today are working on evolving their business models to move up the continuum of value. In addition to traditional accounting, tax, and audit services, they offer a diverse mix of advisory and consulting services. Five years ago, a tax client might be with the firm for decades and only dealt with one or two people in the firm. Today, clients engage the firm for a package of services, and those services are delivered by teams rather than individuals. Thus, the client experience must be seamless from one department to another.
Second, our perception of value has changed. Firm leaders used to believe that technical skill was paramount—clients valued a correct tax return, great tax planning strategy, or an efficient and well-run audit. Those technical skills are still critical, but value isn't based on technical skills. From a client's point of view, value is primarily based on emotion—what their experience is like when working with your firm.
Finally, client experience is an essential component of retaining good employees. High-performing individuals want to work in high-performing organizations. When great people don't see the firm winning and keeping business, they leave.
So, when you focus on providing an exceptional client experience, you'll realize the following benefits:
Spending more time working at their highest and best use
More right-fit clients
Spending less time on low-value activities
All services become more valuable
Client service takes a team approach rather than an individual approach
Improved client retention and growth
New services created organically
Quicker bill collection
Client service vs. client experience
Many people use the terms client service and client experience interchangeably. While client service is a component of the client experience, they're not the same.
Client service is short-term. It involves resolving an issue or responding to a client's needs. Client experience, on the other hand, is long-term. It's about creating a lasting impression and having a coordinated, proactive approach to identifying opportunities.
How to provide an exceptional client experience
To provide an exceptional client experience, you must first understand the current client experience. This means taking the time to think through every touchpoint a client has with your firm. Some questions to help you get started include:
What actions does the client need to take to begin working with you?
Who is involved in delivering client service?
What technologies are used?
What is the client's mindset when working with you?
What are the client's pain points?
What value does the firm currently provide?
How do you know when the client is ready to move to the next phase?
Once you have a good understanding of the current client experience, you can start making changes. One good way to identify potential improvements is to consider where you prioritize being efficient over being effective. For example, an employee might send an email rather than have a tough conversation with a client face-to-face.
Common opportunities for improving the client experience
The following errors are common pain points in the client experience. Review this list and consider what your clients are currently experiencing and how you can make incremental changes to improve the process.
The first meeting with a prospective client
Discovery calls with clients are often unorganized, inconsistent, rushed, or missing key people. Create a process and a template for these calls to ensure you gather all the information you need about the client's needs and have time to show them how you can help.
Do proposals and agreements confuse your clients? Do they lack essential information or introduce new information you didn't discuss during the sales process? Is it too focused on the firm rather than the client?
Improving this stage of the client experience may help you win more business.
The client onboarding experience is often overwhelming and rushed. Clients may receive multiple requests from different people or be left hanging, wondering what will happen next.
A disorganized client onboarding process is a crucial mistake because it's one of your first chances to show a client what it's like to work with you once they've decided to become a client. Clients with a bad experience at this point might back out altogether or leave after working with your firm for a short period.
When your team delivers services to the client, are client expectations misaligned with what the firm provides? Do they have to deal with delayed replies to calls or emails, underwhelming client meetings, or a misunderstanding of the next steps?
You may need to revamp your processes, improve communication or create a more client-focused culture within your firm.
Growing into additional services
Growing clients may go elsewhere simply because they don't recognize that the firm is equipped to handle their evolving needs. This happens when the firm doesn't have proactive strategies and an understanding of the client's goals.
Trying to overhaul your entire client experience all at once is overwhelming and disruptive, but small, incremental changes in each of these areas can significantly improve the client experience. When you take time to understand and improve the client experience, you'll be able to create stronger relationships, increase referrals, and boost your bottom line.
Do you want to fast-track your firm's success in the areas of marketing and business development?
The Boomer Marketing & Business Development Circle is a peer group of top marketing and business development leaders in the accounting profession who are committed to aligning marketing and business development initiatives with firm strategy. Apply now to get plugged into the Circle and start growing your firm.
Jon Hubbard, Shareholder, Consultant, at Boomer Consulting helps accounting firm leaders find success in the areas of leadership, talent and growth. Jon is a facilitator for the Boomer P3 Leadership Academy, Boomer Talent Circle and Boomer Marketing & BD Circle. He also guides firms to grow and be more effective in the areas of client service, marketing and business development.
Jon speaks at various industry conferences, user conferences, state societies, and associations. He is a Storybrand Certified Guide and Certified Kolbe Consultant.