Accounting & Auditing | Financial Planning | Leadership / Management

Three keys to client retention: Ask, listen, serve

Shake At CPA firms, the keyword during the economic crisis has been “survival.”

We've talked before about the AICPA's 2009 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, which listed client retention as the top issue facing firms these days. Firms seem to have scaled back their business development efforts and concentrated instead on keeping the business they have.

The question is, how do firms do about that? How can firms increase the odds that their most valuable clients will stick out the recession and stay loyal to them?

We put that question to three thought leaders on the subject –- Business Learning Institute instructors Greg Conderacci, Peter Margaritis and Mark Slatin –- and each wrote an article that summarizes his thoughts. Those articles are featured in the October 2009 issue of The Statement (that's the MACPA's member magazine); here's a taste of their advice:

From Greg Conderacci
Competing in this difficult market demands that CPAs re-think their business development processes and plans. Here are a few things to keep in mind in a selling situation:

  • Why you? Why should a client choose you and your firm over the competition? Do you have a good answer? Does everybody in your firm say same thing?
  • Benefits, not features. If your answer to “Why you?” is a feature (experience, age of firm, number of CPAs, industry expertise, dedication, commitment, number or type of clients, etc.), you’re missing the boat. What are the specific benefits the prospect is seeking? What’s in it for them?
  • Question for needs. You won’t know the answer to the question “What’s in it for them?” unless you ask what they need.
  • Listen. Regardless of what we think, almost all of us are pretty poor listeners. We hear what we want to hear. We talk too much.

Read Greg's advice in its entirety.

From Peter Margaritis
There are a number of ways to achieve the highest client retention possible. Some examples include the following:

  • Cross-sell your services: The more services you provide to your clients, the more difficult it is for them to move their business to another firm. Listen to your clients’ needs before selling them a new service. Make sure it is the right fit.
  • Provide value to your clients: Even though staff have monthly budgeted chargeable hours, make sure they are charging their time with quality, value-added services.
  • Provide excellent client service: This is easier said than done. However, it all begins with a positive attitude and assuring your client that you are their trusted business advisor.

Read Peter's advice in its entirety.

From Mark Slatin
We must create value from the client’s perspective. In turbulent times, the status quo isn’t enough. But how do we do that?

  • Be proactive: Call them before they call you. For example, one of my coaching clients surprised his contact with news of an $83,000 refund check.
  • Make introductions: Whether they are referral sources or prospective clients, your clients love to get introductions. Don’t you? Commit to making a minimum of one introduction per day via e-mail, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.
  • Offer samples: Anything free and relevant adds value. Send them links to blogs, podcasts, articles, webinars, white papers or books.
  • Provide plenty of face time: Nothing beats live and in-person. E-mail is OK. The phone is better. In-person is the best.

Read Mark's advice in its entirety.

A few extra tips
As usual, Rick Telberg has a few ideas, too. In "Do you know the secrets of happy clients?" he asks actual paying clients what they want from their CPAs. More often than not, it boils down to value, attention, remarkable service and "a better quality product.”

And in "What’s the ‘secret sauce’ for CPA success?" Telberg talks with some CPAs who say you'll lose clients if you (a) fail to deliver the service in a timely manner, (b) don't respond quickly to routine inquiries, and (c) fail to understand that "the key to profitability is to maximize the lifetime value of a client and not in trying to squeeze the most fees out of an individual transaction."

That's a lot to digest, so read through the articles, let it sink in, then tell us: How are you delivering exceptional service to your best clients?

And if you're interested in learning more, check out these related BLI programs:


Bill Sheridan