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I recently took my seven-year-old daughter to the Nutcracker ballet for the first time. About 20 minutes into the performance, she asked me: “Dad. Why is no one saying anything?” I explained that ballet dancers don’t sing or speak. Then my daughter replied, “I don’t understand what’s happening, but I really like it.”
For accounting professionals, think about all the things you do at your firm in which you’re not speaking directly to clients, but you’re still delivering a message or offering a feeling.If it takes you three days to confirm with a client that you’ve received their question, you’re essentially telling (or at least they feel you are telling them) they’re not important to you or your firm. It doesn’t matter how well you eventually answer their question or resolve their issue; you’ve made them feel like they don’t matter to you and your team, and they might start looking elsewhere.
On the flip side, suppose a smiling team member comes out from behind the front desk to shake their hand when they arrive at your office and greets them by name while having their favorite beverage ready for the meeting? Doesn’t that make the client feel important? For more about upping your client experience, see my recent article Great client service is everyone’s responsibility.
Clients know which side of the Important vs. Not Important ledger they’re on. You don’t have to spell it out for them. As professional service providers, we don’t deliver widgets. We deliver services, feelings and advice to our clients. With every client interaction, from onboarding to client service, you constantly reinforce to clients whether or not they’re important to you.
Why do I bring this up now? Technology is taking over the grunt work of putting numbers into boxes. As humans, our job is to create experiences for clients that make them feel valued and listened to, with a team in place to help them make better financial decisions. So, if clients start to feel unimportant, they’ll start considering other firms that make them feel important.
1. Potential new client: Let’s say a prospective client calls or emails you saying they’d like to learn more about your firm. If it takes you a week to get back to that prospect with a cursory message of “Send us your recent tax returns,” that makes them feel unimportant. But if you respond right away with a message like: “Great. How did you hear about us? What’s your most pressing concern? What are your biggest goals and priorities? How do you see us being able to help you?” That makes them feel important.
Your job is not just to respond, but to uncover the client’s unmet needs. Their current accounting firm can handle their tax return just fine, but it may not be helping them feel better about their financial situation or making them feel like their business matters to that firm.
2. Existing client: Let’s say an established client sends in a question. Are you responding the same day (or by noon the next day) to reassure them you’ve received their message and the matter is important to your team and you will have the answer by the end of the following day. Now the client feels like they’re in the loop. This not only makes them feel important, but they’ll be more tolerant if you miss the estimated response deadline by a few hours. There’s nothing worse for a customer, client or patient to feel like their trusted service provider never received their message and/or can’t give them an estimated timeframe for delivering an answer.
Other ways to make clients feel important
Ask them questions beyond their finances and business. In your CRM, make sure their contact record has the client’s birthday as well as the birthdays of their spouse and their kids.
Whenever a client calls me, I always have their personal information at my fingertips. Chances are an important birthday in the client’s life is coming up soon or just recently occurred. Make sure you acknowledge it. If you take the time to ask how that birthday is being celebrated (or was recently celebrated), your client will feel appreciated. On the flip side, if you call a client about a routine matter on their birthday — and didn’t realize it was their birthday — you have lost out big time. They will feel neglected and unimportant if you don’t mention their special day. It doesn’t matter how well you resolved their issue. Stumbles like this can undo a year’s worth of positive touchpoints with that client.
Like it or not, your job is no longer about putting numbers into boxes. It’s about building a relationship with clients and helping them make better financial decisions.
To help them make better financial decisions, they must trust you and be willing to listen to you. One of the keys to building trust with a client is reassuring them their relationship is significant to you. Ask them questions about their life beyond their finances and business. Respond promptly. Communicate well.
Look at all the touchpoints you have with clients each year. If you added them all up, are there more that make the client feel important or more that make them feel ignored? If they don’t feel important, they won’t trust you. And if they don’t trust you, they will not listen to you. And if they don’t listen to you, you’re not their most trusted advisor.
Just like the ballet, every interaction with a client is a performance.
How does your firm make clients feel important? I’d love to hear from you.