The world of accounting is rapidly changing. From the increasingly prominent role of technology, to shifting client requirements and the need to provide an expanded range of services, transformation is everywhere. And as the accounting profession evolves and matures, so too must the way firms do business, enabling them to keep pace with their competitors and meet client requirements.
With a multi-generational client base, accounting firms are under more pressure than ever before to find their niche and provide value. Ultimately, clients are in search of firms that provide a best-in-class experience in addition to standard bookkeeping services.
In order to meet evolving demands, accounting firms must increase their focus on building strong relationships through a connection with the firm’s brand. This requires a shift in company culture and mindset that will take time and senior-level support to implement. Here are the key considerations for building customer relationships to future-proof your firm.
The Client Experience
Firms must start by creating a culture centred around evolving client needs. It’s time to forge a deeper relationship with clients by building a forward-looking brand and delivering the experiences clients now demand. According to research from Salesforce, 81 percent of business buyers believe the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Rather than focusing solely on bookkeeping and annual audits, accounting firms must now also provide personalized and engaging client experiences. To move from transactional relationships to strategic partnerships, firms should implement the following pillars:
● Hire diverse skill sets. To build a strong relationship with clients, your firm will need a wider range of skill sets. Hire outside of the traditional accountants skill set and get creative thinkers, strong communicators, tech innovators and project managers on board. The more varied your workforce, the better prepared you are to meet evolving client needs.
● Understand the client journey. When it comes to clients, attitudes towards accountants are changing, with the Sage 2018 Practice of Now report highlighting that the vast majority (83 percent) expect more in terms of services and resources than they did five years ago. Rather than just focusing on the bottom line, firms should promote the importance of understanding the client’s journey, building trust and communicating regularly.
● Personalize. The modern client wants to be able to choose how quickly they will have access to the knowledge their accountant holds and the different types of services they receive. By providing a tiered set of services – such as offering additional business development consultancy for higher paying clients – the client can choose which one they want, resulting in a personalised service and a positive experience.
● Deliver indispensable services. Firms must create a culture focused on efficiency, modernizing legacy process that are taking up too much time and holding accountants back from doing their job—such as manual data entry. To truly transform services, firms must focus on the quality of the work and the value derived from it, rather than just the number of hours put into each project.
Ultimately, accounting firms should strive to become part of their clients’ business—an essential partner in daily operations. By doing so, your firm will be able to build profitable, long-term relationships, evolving alongside client needs.
Don’t Stand Still
The secret to building and maintaining strong client relationships is to prepare for frequent change. Needs are constantly evolving, and that’s okay. Just remember to check in with employees and clients on a regular basis and redefine relationships as those needs evolve. While bookkeeping and number crunching will always be at the heart of what we do as accountants, the client experience is what sets leading firms apart. Push your firm to innovate, embrace technology and deliver the best-in-class service clients have come to expect.
By Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants and Alliances at Sage