Show the Love: Client Appreciation

Show the Love

Now, it’s time to take a break, catch up on CPE (that would be me) and start thinking of running the business instead of it running you. So many firms seem to keep chasing new clients while all but ignoring those reliable souls who come in year after year. Why not take a little time and keep in touch with them as well?

Take a look at your top clients (see this post for tips) and set up a schedule in your calendar for check in phone calls or even in person visits during the upcoming months. Don’t approach this with the intention to sell them something –just keep in touch. It’s amazing what comes up when you take the time to talk.

Some clients really don’t need or want more than a once a year check in. Remember them by sending a personal email or letter thanking them for their business and reminding them you’re available whenever they need you. A little gratitude goes a long way.

Client appreciation and retention is a low cost, low risk way to strengthen your practice. Done properly, it can increase revenue from additional services as well as referrals. Now is a perfect time to start.

Do you have plans or procedures in place to keep clients? Please share your experiences!

Image:

One Easy Way to Make Clients Happier

This happened a few days ago at a local accounting firm I was visiting, but the principles apply to all professional service businesses.

A client dropped by with a few questions to finish preparing his records and an apology for it being a busy time of year. He took 10-15 minutes of a professional’s time. After showing him in, an administrative employee commented “I hate when they do that” referring to the client’s dropping in without an appointment.

It’s important to know that this firm uses value billing and markets its services by telling clients the flat rate for services includes questions and phone calls. Here are two points to consider, but this scene offers a lot to think about.

  • Value billing is just that – being paid for value delivered. If that client couldn’t have his questions answered, he could easily go to another firm that would be more helpful. If you choose to offer flat rate billing, the rates should include the additional personal time that clients will ask for.
  • The tone and attitude of a firm is subtle but easily transmitted. It struck me that the client felt he had to apologize for requesting a service that had been offered. While the professional who met with him had no reluctance to spend the time, the initial administrative contact was where the displeasure was expressed.

Of the two issues, I think the second is more serious. The tone of any business is either set by its leaders or simply evolves in the absence of strong example. The firm in this case has allowed an attitude of unfriendly “gate keeping” to develop in its administrative staff.

Today is a good day for a check on the attitude your firm transmits. We’ll talk about how to polish that in future posts, but, for now, observe professional and administrative employees when they deal with clients and note the overall tone.

What else do you see in this little scenario? Have you dealt with the same or similar issues? Please share your experiences!

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dot_not_touch.PNG&oldid=26378712

Are You Secretly Irritating Your Clients?

A Slow Burn
We all have different personalities and communicating styles. That’s a good thing, but it can be a problem when different styles are at odds.

Most professionals have their preferred method of reaching clients and use that with great success in some cases and not so much in others. Let’s have a look and see if we can improve.

There are three categories of contacts:

Written- This includes the obvious like written letters and emails as well as new technologies like texts, Twitter and Linked In.

Verbal- For most of us, the telephone is the standard in this category but it could also include things like interactive chat, tele-meetings and webinars.

In Person- Here’s the old standby of meeting in the same place at the same time. Technology has yet to upgrade this with the possible exception of the virtual meeting.

Sometimes, the nature of the reason for contact dictates the method. For example, formally communicating important points is best in a letter and a sales presentation most likely requires a face to face meeting.

But, what about a quick question to clarify a point on the current project – is that an email, a text or a phone call? The answer is whatever method the client prefers. That’s right, what they want, not what we’re comfortable with.

Lots of people use the telephone and don’t think twice about picking it up to make a call and answer it with no hesitation. There are people who hate talking on the phone and see calls as interruptions. Some clients view a drop in visit as a great chance to talk and others see it as rude and thoughtless. The trick is finding out what your clients want.

The way to do that is to just ask. Most people are happy to tell you what they want and will be thrilled that you asked. Make a note in the file with the contact information and follow their preferences whenever you can.

Try it and see if your clients are happier and prospective clients are more receptive.

For the record, I’m an email kind of person and don’t like talking on the phone. Leave a comment with your preferences and experiences-let’s compare.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cibomahto/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Make Your Life Easier and Increase Your Profit by Firing Clients

Breaking up is hard to do (Bixentro)

Have you noticed that certain clients are responsible for the majority of your problem solving calls and rework? And, you probably have another group of clients who are generating the majority of your sales. That’s the Pareto (Puh-RAY-toe) Principle at work. Without going into the details (read them here), it’s a concept that holds 80% of an outcome is due to 20% of the causes. The percentages vary but the principle is astoundingly common.

It means 20% of clients are generating around 80% of sales. It works both ways, so 80% of your problems come from 20% of your client base. Those are the clients that may need to go. How do you know which clients to discharge?

Start by sorting your client list by total billings and draw a line at the top and bottom 20% of gross. Then, take some time to look over those accounts, putting a star beside the ones who are great clients to work with and an X beside those who aren’t. Ask your associates and staff for their input as well. We’ve all seen the client whose easy going and pleasant with a partner and overbearing and demanding with staff.

You’ll likely find that the majority of X’s are in the bottom 20% and the stars are in the top 20%. For the lower 20%, it makes sense to discharge the sub par clients and keep the pleasant ones. You’ll be winnowing out problem clients while retaining those who aren’t troublesome as well as continuing to provide service and generate billings.

But, sometimes you find an X client in the top 20%. Many firms aren’t in a position to discharge a well paying client no matter how difficult. The best strategy is to work toward making the relationship smoother and actively recruiting replacement revenue for future discharge. Don’t make the mistake of accepting poor treatment; that sets up a dangerous precedent for you and your firm.

Discharging a client can be handled in many ways but you should document the process for future reference and, possibly, insurance purposes. We’ll talk about that in more detail in a future post but here’s what the AICPA has to say.

Once you’ve taken action, your practice will be smoother and you’ll have time to spend with those star clients who generate more profit. After all, wouldn’t you rather work with clients who value, respect and pay for your expertise?

How Much Time and Money do You Waste Sending Client Organizers?

Sending client organizers has become a self perpetuating process in many accounting firms. The idea is that the clients fill in the complex multitude of lines with their own tax information and return the whole multipage document to you for tax preparation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out.

Clients use organizers in three different ways:

  • What’s this? It’s just a bulky reminder that it’s time to get their stuff in to you. Most of these come back unused with the usual pile of paper and receipts.
  • Oh, it’s that time again. These clients use it as a guide to what you need but never fill in any more than their new cell number and maybe the birth date of the newest exemption. Some may fill in a few of the lines but it’s incomplete or incorrect so you still need to refer to the source documentation.
  • Wow, Cool! The royalty of the client world, they not only fill it out, they complete it and it’s all correct. I always wondered why we’re doing their return in the first place since they’re obviously capable of doing it themselves.

What if we changed our approach and matched the mailing to the client’s needs? It would look something like this:

  • Send the first group a postcard, flyer or letter. It will remind them to bring in their records and, with careful wording, it can reinforce your relationship with them while meeting their needs.
  • The second group would benefit from a one or two page checklist of the items required. Some organizer programs have an option to print a checklist instead of the full organizer.
  • The third group likes the organizer, so keep sending the package and be extra nice to these clients. They’re precious!

Sure, it’ll take some time on your part this tax season to choose which group your clients fall into. But, once you’ve done that, you can send them the type of communication that meets their needs without wasting your resources.

If you’d like help with setting up a new organizer communication system or some pointers on what to put into them, please contact me and we’ll get started.

Learn the Shocking Secret to Attracting and Keeping Clients

Be nice to them.

Yes, it’s really that simple but it’s shocking how many accounting firms are negative or even hostile to their clients without being aware of it. To illustrate, here is an excerpt of tax submission instructions from a recently published client letter. Capitalization is from the original.

“Due to the turnaround time necessary for in-house procedures and computer operations, it is vital to send in your tax information EARLY. We cannot promise to complete returns that are sent to us in April. PLEASE send only complete information—sending in information bit by bit will incur extra charges.

PLEASE DO NOT SEND PERSONAL TAX INFO IN THE SAME PACKAGE AS ANY PARTNERSHIP, LLC, OR CORPORATE INFORMATION.”

There are two ways to read this, as the long suffering accountant who has to deal with shoeboxes and tote bags of paper, mostly irrelevant, dropped off on April 7 by a frantic client with a bank officer breathing down their neck. Oh yeah, we all know how that feels.

But, since this post is about clients and what makes them happy, let’s look at it from their side.

• First, all those capitals are shouting do this and do that. Capitalizing the word “please” doesn’t make it nicer.

• Then, when clients read the copy, they find that it’s all about the accountants, their schedule and what they want to make their life easier. There’s not one scrap that clients care about or that takes a burden off of them.

• Last, there’s the comment about complete information and extra charges. Nothing puts a client on edge like the possibility of a surprise bill.

Let’s try a rewrite:

“To speed the preparation and processing of your tax return, please send your information as early as possible. We strive to prepare returns quickly and accurately, but missing information will result in longer preparation times and more time and effort for all.

With your information in house by the end of March, we can complete your returns by the due date. To ensure that important information is properly included in all your returns, please separate personal tax information from business items.”

Doesn’t that sound better to your client? It emphasizes the benefits to the client of speedy tax preparation, accuracy and less effort on their part by following a few friendly suggestions. In short, it’s about the client and their needs as well as communicating professionalism and quality service from your firm. Being nice to your clients is good business; after all, they’re the ones writing the checks.

If you want your communications to be more client friendly, contact me for a makeover.

Faster Cash: 5 Tips

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a more robust cash flow? Here are some ideas for speeding up payment and building your bank balance.

Institute a credit policy

A credit policy a guide for making the decision to extend credit to a customer and its purpose is to avoid extending credit to customers who are unable or unwilling to pay.  Unfortunately, many accounting firms don’t use even the simplest policy even though it has a direct bearing on cash flow.

Set the price up front

Make sure your client knows how much your services cost. Clients don’t like getting bills for more than they expect and are likely to put them aside for more consideration, thus paying you later. Also, a peeved client may be thinking about not paying at all if they don’t feel they received adequate services.

Send out bills and statements promptly

Seems obvious, but send bills and statements out regularly and quickly. It’s easy to get caught up in all the other aspects of running a firm and put off the billing. Consider sending bills twice monthly so they arrive closer in time to when the services are rendered. People quickly forget and are more likely to pay when the memory of the great things you did for them is still fresh.

Oh, and for individual tax preparation, establish a payment system so clients can pay when they receive their return. I’ve run across situations where firms didn’t prepare the bills with the returns and there was no provision for accepting payment. That’s asking to not be paid!

Follow up on overdue accounts

Sending a letter is the easy way out. A phone call usually works better especially if it’s from someone with authority. Be polite, be nice, be understanding, but be sure to let the client know that the bill is due and must be paid. Handled properly, this usually results in payment. If not, go ahead and send that letter.

Cut off overdue clients

This is the last resort and one many firms avoid, even to their own detriment. If a client owes you for past services and is overdue on payments, don’t continue to work for them. You’re essentially working for free and that’s not a good business model.

When you’ve made the decision to stop work, let the client know and explain to them what it will take to remedy the situation. You may be happy to continue with them if they bring their account up to date, or you may be ready to discharge the client for habitual non-payment. Either way, be honest, upfront and professional with the client.

Yes, tax time is on us, but more cash is always in season. Try to squeeze out a little time for some of these tips and let me know how that works for you.