Practice Management

Understanding the Client Experience: An Intro for CPAs

Callie Hinman
June 4, 2019

Client satisfaction used to be the only metric professional service providers needed to worry about. As long as they could be confident they were meeting client expectations, there was no need to change anything about the way they conducted business.

But today’s consumers are considerably different than consumers even 10 years ago. They’re accustomed to personalized, on-demand service that doesn’t just meet, but exceeds, their expectations.

In other words, CPAs can’t be concerned with satisfaction alone. To compete in the accounting services marketplace, they must focus on the overall client experience.

The challenge is that while defining client satisfaction is relatively simple, the concept of the client experience is a bit more abstract. As a result, there are plenty of misunderstandings about what the client experience is and what it is not.

To help clear things up, we put together a list of a few fundamental truths about the client experience. By understanding the foundation of a positive client experience, CPAs can make more effective decisions and simultaneously improve both their client acquisition and retention efforts.

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Truth #1: Providing high quality work is not the same as providing an exceptional client experience.

Some CPAs have maintained the same transactional approach to service delivery they’ve had throughout their career. However, modern accounting extends well beyond just fulfilling the terms of a service agreement.

To successfully acquire and retain clients, you cannot focus solely on completing the work you say you will. You must also prioritize the quality of each interaction a client has with you or with any extension of your practice, including your team, your resources, and your website.

Truth #2: The client experience is defined and influenced by every touchpoint between a client and your practice.

Of course the caliber of your work matters; it’s just not the only thing that matters anymore. When a client is deciding whether to continue working with your firm or move on, they take much more than the quality of your work into consideration.

Factors like how quickly you respond to their questions, the friendliness of your staff, and how helpful/informative your website is all impact the client experience, and, in turn, the loyalty of your clients. In short, an opportunity to increase client retention exists in every interaction—including potentially unpleasant ones.

For example, even the billing process can be an opportunity to prove your commitment to your clients. If you make paying as convenient as possible (for example, by offering online payment options, it shows you value your clients’ time and want to help make their lives easier by putting control of the payment experience in their hands.

Truth #3: A positive client experience starts with honest, two-way communication.

Delivering an exceptional client experience is a lot less complex than you may think. There’s no need for over-the-top gestures or expensive welcome gifts. You don’t need to be on-call 24/7.

Rather, you just need to take the time to understand your clients’ expectations and concerns, reply to their inquiries promptly, and regularly communicate using their preferred channel(s). Ensuring you and your client are on the same page from day one and maintaining open lines of communication will have a much bigger impact on the client experience than remembering how a client prefers their coffee.

Truth #4: An outstanding client experience is client-centric, not client-obsessed.

Expanding off that last point, some CPAs are under the impression that creating an exceptional client experience means being at every client’s beck and call and honoring every request, no matter how over the top.

The reality is that you don’t need to bend over backwards to create an extraordinary client experience. You just need to be able to answer yes to the 10 questions below:

  1. Does my firm have a standard onboarding process for new clients?
  2. Do my team and I always ensure the client understands the scope of work and all applicable fees before signing a contract?
  3. Do we take the time to understand each client’s individual industry and unique goals?
  4. Do we make the client feel important and valued?
  5. Are we easily accessible to clients?
  6. Are clients able to schedule meetings with me or one of my associates that aren’t weeks in the future?
  7. Are we available to answer questions about the work we do?
  8. Do we return phone calls and emails as quickly as possible?
  9. Do we offer proactive assistance and advice to our clients before they ask?
  10. Are we committed to making each interaction helpful and memorable?

Truth #5: A provider’s commitment to the client experience must be ongoing.

Every client will come to your office with their own unique goals and challenges. In addition, what they hope to accomplish through your firm will grow and evolve over time. This means your approach to the client experience must be flexible enough to not only accommodate each client’s initial objectives but their future goals, as well.

A client experience strategy can neither be “set it and forget it” nor a “one size fits all” approach. It must be something you continuously revisit and adjust based on feedback from your clients. Just as you wouldn’t take a blanket approach to offering financial advice, you shouldn’t use a cookie-cutter client experience strategy.

Truth #6: A positive client experience is an integral part of business development.

Bringing in new clients is tremendously important for CPA firms. But if your business development strategy centers almost exclusively around acquisition instead of a combination of acquisition and retention, you’re making a critical mistake.

Effectively growing your client base requires you to hold onto the clients you have. And the satisfaction and engagement of your clients is absolutely dependent on (you guessed it) the quality of the client experience. Plus, an outstanding client experience not only encourages clients to stick around, it can also inspire them to request additional services from you and refer others to your practice. If you really knock it out of the park, clients will be more inclined to leave you a positive review online, which can drive even more business to your firm.

Making the transition from focusing on client satisfaction to focusing on the client experience doesn’t have to upend your practice. It really just boils down to a commitment to being attentive, responsive, and flexible and an understanding that every conversation is an opportunity to prove to clients that working with your firm is the right decision.