Customer-centric accounting firms are winning over compliance-centric ones. Accounting customers are often tricky folk (as you're talking about money) so establishing best practice for your firm is essential. Use this guide to differentiate your service offering by putting your client experience first.
What is your firm’s value proposition?
Value proposition: The promise of value you deliver by defining the problem you solve and clarifying why your solution is better than the alternatives.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What services does my accounting firm offer?
List them all. This is a good way to discover how the world perceives your business. Are you an accounting firm, or a bookkeeping firm? Are you a CPA? Do you want to be a tax professional or an Advisory ace?
If the lists match, your value prop is being communicated clearly. The likelihood is, that they'll only be able to name the services they receive from you, in some cases, they may not even be able to do that. Up-selling your services is immediately more difficult as you are not taking your customers on a journey.
This is an opportunity to rethink your service offering and decide where to invest your time. If none of your clients taking an interest in scenario modeling, but you know many should be due to poor cash flow, how do you overcome this?
Is it because they don’t understand they have a problem yet? Or is it because they know they have a problem but have no idea you can help them with it?
The answers to these questions, you must uncover. It can only happen with unbiased questioning.
These are the stages of a buying journey. You must map this for your services and create collateral to support every stage. Gen X and Gen Z expect a level of service and to be taken on a journey. They are going to be your clients very soon.
At the awareness stage, your potential customers need to be made aware of the problem you solve. This is big thinking, not brand focussed. They don’t are about you yet, as they don’t know they have a problem. You’re going to describe this for them in multiple ways through multiple mediums.
The next stage is consideration. Your customers now know that there is a problem, and are looking for ways to solve it, video guides, Ebooks, blog posts and podcasts describing how you solve that problem sit here. Get that education out there.
Then there’s the decision. You must ensure your referral mechanisms are singing to ensure they get social proof for your solution. Comparison sites, testimonials, social media posts of customers using your product or service are all essential here.
Who are my target clients?
You know that client that just fits? The one you're never worried about losing, who takes on your advice, asks the right questions and maybe, if you're really lucky, always has their paperwork done on time? Why is that client so suitable for your firm? What can you do to attract more clients like them?
Outline your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile). Consider every element of their personal attributes as well as their business.
Once you have your ICP in mind, target the collateral you create to support their buying journey to their dimensions. By building a portfolio of ideal clients, your workflow becomes more streamlined and repeatable, so you and your team can take on a larger volume of clients or enjoy the breathing space and do more for each client you already have onboard.
Are the accounting clients that you have reflective of your firm and the work you want to be doing? You may need to adjust what you look for in new clients and change your acquisition process. However, these things take time so don't expect big results overnight!
What makes my accounting firm stand out from my competitors?
Why should a client choose you over the firm down the road? Why should they stay with you, even when they move to the next town? Uniqueness and service experience are the two largest contributors to both your client retention and acquisition statistics. Do your services have something special about them? Or is it the delivery - excellent customer service, where the extra mile is always doable? Do you offer additional tools to help streamline your clients' workflow? Does your firm have a personality that your clients love? Decide what it is and do it well.
Your services should be aligned to your mission and your brand values and supported from your website to office presentation, staff training, client support, marketing materials, educational content, social media content, etc.
The golden rule
Always put your customers first. You're in the kitchen, cooking dinner, and suddenly "Eureka!" you've had an excellent idea for a new service you could provide your clients with. Perfect. The next day, you explain it to your colleagues, they agree it's a good idea and you work for weeks putting it into place. The reaction from your clients when you release it? Nothing. Blank stares, polite refusals.
Eureka moments are hard to come by, so when they do come around, we tend to rush headfirst into them. But it's a business move. And as I'm sure you tell your clients, they always need consideration first. Even the excellent ideas among them could be badly timed, or not applicable to your client base. This might not mean the idea needs scrapping, they may just need stepping back from; editing, refining, repositioning.
An example client-centric customer journey
1. The first impression.
Some form of marketing medium is likely to be your clients' first touchpoint with your firm. It should follow the same golden rule as your services. Using your customer research and by walking in their shoes from the beginning of the buying journey: what kind of resources would you need and want? Which talking points would make you stop and consider investing in a new accounting, bookkeeping, or advisory service?
Then, ensure from the first meeting you are valuable and interesting. Ask questions of your clients, harvesting information that you can pin your services on. You should only talk about your services in relation to pain points that you uncover using SPIN. It will demonstrate that you understand their problems;
SPIN has 4 types of questions:
Situation questions deal with the facts about the buyer's existing situation.
Problem questions ask about the buyer's pain and focus the buyer on this pain whilst clarifying the problem.
Implication questions discuss the effect of the problem and develop the seriousness of the problem which will help increase the buyer's need to change.
Need-payoff questions get the buyer to tell you their explicit need and the benefits your solutions offer.
2. Listen, probe, and listen again.
Listen. How is your client is feeling? What can’t they sleepover? What are their goals? Are there family stresses? What is running away from them at work? What would they love to get a handle on in their operations? What are their goals this quarter? This year? If they haven’t got any why not? What happens if they don’t achieve them?
These are the basics for every single client meeting.
3. Solve their problems.
As your client talks, take notes about potential solutions you could offer and how they would be impacted positively if you did. That’s how you present your services. Not by selling, but by understanding.
4. If you can’t solve their problems, tell them.
Honesty and integrity equal trust. If you can’t help your client, tell them why. You’re running a business too, talk with them on that footing and they will understand.
5. On-board them properly.
If you need them to use Xero or Quickbooks in a certain way, show them. If they should use Receiptbank daily demonstrate how easy it is and what benefit they get from it.
Nobody adopts software if the purpose and positive impact aren’t illustrated clearly. Any impact should be tracked back to their needs and the solutions you are bringing.
6. Improve, improve, improve.
Keep asking your clients what you could be doing better. The research discussed at the start of this article should be repeated quarterly. You're building a strategy around your clients and that makes them the best people to feed into its direction.