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3 steps every accountant must take to drive client retention

Advisor meeting happy client
Gilad Idisis
Published at | Updated:

Think about the resources it takes to recruit a new client: the marketing spend, the sale pitches, getting a “no” sometimes. Think about the time and effort it takes to onboard a new client – learning everything about their business, finding the tempo that suits them, overcoming the growing pains.   

And then, out of the blue, you get a polite email or a phone call, thanking you for everything and notifying you they’re leaving. Nothing bad happened, nothing changed, and more often than not, they can’t or won’t tell you why, even if you ask them.

It sure does sting, doesn’t it? But obviously, it’s not just about the bruised ego. Client departure is a waste of the resources invested in the procurement process, and it stunts your firm’s growth. It’s money and time down the drain. 

But still, CPAs, accountants, and bookkeepers don’t invest enough thought and effort into client retention, out of the (wrong) assumption that if they just do the work and provide the service, that will be enough. 

The numbers speak for themselves: 34% of small businesses taking part in a 2019 Survey by Accounting Today responded either positively (16%) or indifferently (18%) to the likelihood of them switching to another accountant in the upcoming year. These numbers correlate with how satisfied they were with their accountants: 72% responded that they are “very satisfied,” 16% were “somewhat satisfied,” 7% were “neither satisfied/unsatisfied and 4% were “not satisfied.” 

While there’s no foolproof way to prevent clients from leaving, taking these three steps will help you promote client satisfaction and retention and reduce the chances of them walking out the door. 

1. Listen and learn

Hopefully, whenever you sign up a new client, you’re also having an in-depth conversation with them to understand their business, their financial needs, their expectations, and more. For too many accountants, that first in-depth talk is also the last one they will have with their clients. And that’s a wrong move.

But why? You already know them. You’ve been working with them for years, right? The thing is, clients need to have this type of conversation on a regular basis, for three reasons: 

First, we are all human. We all want to know we are heard, that we’re not being taken for granted. An accountant-client relationship is no different in that sense. 

Second, clients may carry pet peeves, things that bother them, or things they wish were better, but many of them will not reveal these things voluntarily. They may not want to come across as petty, or they think you’re already aware of whatever it is that bothers them but choose to do nothing about it, or they’re just not the type to complain. So they hold it in. Until they leave. 

Third, businesses (and people as well) are ever-changing. The needs and concerns relevant for a specific client when you started working with them are probably not the same needs and concerns they have now. And again, you won’t have a real picture of what their business needs are now unless you actively ask them. 

And still, a survey conducted by Onpay among small business owners indicates  that nearly half of them only communicate with their accountants during tax season and “once or twice” more a year when they “have questions,” and only half said that their accountants know their business “very well.”

Think of the value you can bring to your clients and the competitive edge you’ll gain over other accountants just by being more attentive and hands-on with your clients. 

So, what’s the best way? First, decide how often you want these conversations to occur, whether it’s quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. Give your clients a heads-up so that they can prepare and think of what they want to say. Most importantly, before the meeting, prepare a list of open-end questions that will help you guide the conversation. Here are some examples:

  • What are your day-to-day financial concerns? What worries you the least? 
  • How can your business run better than it does right now?
  • Are you expecting or planning any changes? Are you looking to expand or grow?
  • Where do you see your business a year from now?
  • Do you need help with your business plan or financial planning?
  • Do you want me to be more proactive in offering advice and services? 
  • Is there anything you’re expecting from me that you’re not currently getting? Is there anything I can do to improve the service you’re getting? 
  • Are you satisfied with the finance tech we’re using? 

2. Be proactive and involved

A survey conducted by Wasp Barcode revealed that the main grievance small and medium business owners have towards their accountants was for their lack of proactiveness (over 40%). Close runner-ups were “doesn’t provide advice” and “lack of guidance.” The participants also ranked accountants as first among the professionals most important to their business. 

The accounting profession is turning more and more to advisory roles, and business owners expect more than just doing books and handling tax reporting from their accountants. It’s truer than ever during these tumultuous and uncertain times.

The Accounting Today survey participants were also asked to address the financial challenges they were facing: 32% mentioned cash-flow problems, and 21% were concerned with low profitability. 51% of the Wasp Barcode survey participants stated accounts receivable and collections as their primary concern, and 44% cited cash-flow issues.

You, as a trusted advisor, can step in and offer help in mitigating these concerns. You have the most intimate knowledge of your clients’ business, and you have the best skills to understand what they can do better financially, guide them, offer advice and help them grow. The more you’ll take on a proactive approach with your clients, the more you’ll gain their appreciation and loyalty. 

3. Offer the best technological solutions

You’re doing everything right. Working hard, being proactive with your clients, giving them all you’ve got. But it’s not enough. Today, especially in a post-Covid world, the accounting profession is depending more than ever on tech in all aspects: bookkeeping software, payroll, A/P and A/R, communications, and more. 

And here is where most accountants err: They think that if they have a tech stack, that’s good enough, and they can stop researching for better solutions. You need to be able to offer the best tech solutions to your clients in terms of performance, interconnectivity features, ease of use, and price. 

Equally important – if possible, you need to take into account the specific needs of your clients and choose the tech solution that best suits them. 

If you have a client who’s a solopreneur and you have them on an expensive bill pay app with far too many unnecessary bells and whistles that they are never going to use, you’re doing them a disservice: they’re wasting time and money for a tech solution that’s just not right for them, when there are far better options out there. 

Take David Perry of Latitude Bookkeeping Services as an example: David understood his small business clients need a free, simple, easy-to-use bill pay app with a QBO sync and simple approval workflows. He rolled up his sleeves and started looking for one, and it wasn’t long before he found Melio. Thanks to David’s willingness to search and implement new tech solutions, he manages to save up to $300 and hours on A/P handling for each of his clients.

The tech solutions you provide are just as important as any other aspect of your services; they are an integral part of the service package you provide your clients with, and investing time in researching and finding the best solutions is one of the best actions you can take to promote client retention and satisfaction. 

*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.