Let’s face it: not all of your clients jump out of their seats with excitement when it comes to their finances. In fact, financial discussions often induce the opposite reaction (or, at least something that resembles this weary-faced emoji: 😩).
Providing an incredible client experience requires you to engage your clients so you can both make strategic financial decisions. Fostering client engagement can be an uphill battle; however, it’s critical to the success of both your firm and your client’s business.
A 2014 survey by The Sleeter Group found that 72% of small business owner respondents changed their accounting firm in the past because the firm “did not give proactive advice, only reactive service.” In other words, a lack of proactive advice won’t just cause client engagement levels to plummet – it could impact your firm’s growth, as well.
So, how can you improve your client engagement efforts? Here are a few data-driven tips that you can start to implement right away.
Show you’re ahead of the curve
As the aforementioned survey results from The Sleeter Group pointed out, clients are relying on their accountant to provide proactive advice. Part of being an advisor means ensuring that your client’s processes and tools are up-to-date so they’re able to scale alongside (and in anticipation of) industry trends.
As an obvious example, clients who still rely on spreadsheets and paper documents for many of their accounting and bookkeeping workflows won’t be able to scale as effectively as those that have transitioned to cloud accounting software and applications.
It’s up to you to provide expert insight into how your client’s processes and tools can improve. However, the Sleeter Group survey also found that only 13% of SMBs surveyed think that their accountant is “ahead of the curve”.
Source: The Sleeter Group
Channel your inner Gandalf and guide your clients with the advice they need for a successful journey. Clients who understand that you’re invested in their future will likely be far more interested and engaged in strategic financial discussions.
A few ways you can stay ahead of the curve include:
Regularly recommending the latest cloud accounting apps and software to your clients as they apply to their specific needs
Developing a specialized understanding of trends in your clients’ industries (this might involve defining your ideal client)
Staying on top of accounting and bookkeeping trends by regularly attending conferences, watching accounting webinars, and following top cloud accountants on social media, etc.
Refer to the bigger picture
Advisors are also educators. Your clients will be far more motivated to listen to you if you teach them how and why your recommendations are part of the bigger picture.
Madeline Reeves, Director of Business Development at Fathom, shared the following example in our webinar, 5 Ways to Engage Your Clients in Their Finances:
“Something I see quite frequently is when business owners have really high AR days – 30, 60, 90 days – to be collecting payments from their [customers]. Just sitting down and telling your client, ‘You need to get your AR days down’, might not mean a whole lot to that client. They might not even know what AR days are.
However, if you sit down with the client and not only educate them on AR days, but also talk about the impact that they can have on the overall cash flow of their business, and also explain to them that decreasing their AR days can create more cash on hand, the client will understand the thought process behind the action. They’re also going to be more motivated to follow through and achieve the task because they’re going to understand its wider impact on their business.”
Referring to the bigger picture will be even more impactful if you’re aligned with your clients’ long-term business objectives. Discussing long-term goals will demonstrate to clients that you’re truly engaged and committed to their business, which will also help to amplify their level of engagement.
Open up lines of communication
1st Financial Training reports that 96% of unhappy bank customers will simply leave a bank without actually communicating their dissatisfaction. Similarly, John Goodman estimates that half of customers won’t complain about problems they’re experiencing. Although this data isn’t specific to SMBs or the accounting industry, it suggests that many of your clients will not complain or offer constructive feedback if they’re not satisfied with your services.
Regular communication is a necessary element of engagement. It’s up to you to open up appropriate channels of communication and ensure your clients are empowered to use them.
Intuit offers a few pro tips for how accounting firms can improve client communication. Some of these include:
Setting communication expectations upfront so clients understand the level of communication required for a successful working relationship with your firm
Standardizing your processes to limit redundant communication (which can cause clients to disengage) and maximize strategic communication
Leveraging collaboration tools that help to overcome communication barriers, such as Slack, Karbon, and Google’s G Suite
Be a proactive, strategic partner
Source: The Sleeter Group
A common theme shared by most of the ideas listed here is that clients want their accountants and bookkeepers to be proactive, strategic advisors to their business.
As new technology continues to increase efficiencies and provide more insights, both you and your clients have more time and more information required to make strategic decisions. Thanks to accounting and bookkeeping automation, the hours spent on tasks and conversations that add little business value – activities that can cause clients to disengage – will soon be behind us.
However, another insight from the Sleeter Group survey shows that only 24% of surveyed SMBs are receiving strategic advice, indicating that there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to proactively offering advice.
Source: The Sleeter Group
Some of the financial discussions you’ll have to have won’t be fun. Sometimes, you’ll have to bear bad news. Your clients will only want to engage with you if they believe you can guide them through tough decisions and you’ve proven that your relationship is interactive, not transactional.
Once your clients understand that you’re a proactive, strategic partner, and you've demonstrated client appreciation, they’ll be far more interested in and engaged with what you have to say.
Learn more tactics for engaging your clients in our webinar, 5 Ways to Engage Your Clients in Their Finances. Watch it now!
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