- It can cost five times as much to attract a new client than retain an existing one. Some analysts assert the true cost is closer to 20 times that.
- A typical company will lose 15% of its customers each year, according to online business hub smallbiztrends.com.
- Knowing how to retain clients is even more important in the current landscape.
By John Burfitt
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that it can cost five times as much to attract a new client than retain an existing one. Some analysts even insist the true cost is closer to 20 times that. Whatever the figure, holding onto clients is paramount to ongoing business success.
And yet a typical company will lose 15% of its customers each year, according to online business hub smallbiztrends.com, which also claims a 10% increase in retention levels can result in a 30% increase in a company’s value.
“Retention is one of those issues a lot of accounting companies still don’t get their heads around the value of until they see clients leaving – and wonder why,” says Nick Ellingsen CA, a director with Perth’s Accumulate Accountants.
“It’s essential to address the key factors regarding retention, as ignoring them can cause damage.”
Mike Atkinson FCA, a director of Bellingham Wallace Accountancy in Auckland, says retaining clients is even more important in the current landscape.
“In the old days, clients needed us to manage their affairs, but with the fast way technology and platforms have changed, that power play has changed, and some accountants need our clients more than they need us,” he says.
Picture: Mike Atkinson FCA.
“In the old days clients needed us to manage their affairs, but with the fast way technology and platforms have changed, that power play has changed, and some accountants need our clients more than they need us.”
So, why exactly are clients leaving? And what can be done to retain them?
Here are six key ways to keep clients happy:
1. Address clients’ needs
Making assumptions about the level of accounting services a client expects can result in a client feeling under-serviced and unsatisfied.
“Ask a client what they want, what they need and consider the solutions that will work,” Atkinson advises. “Then they know you are striving to get the best for what they need.”
Understanding client strategy is essential, says Pete Forrester, managing partner – Clients, Industries and Markets for Deloitte Australia. “Look into what are the biggest opportunities they are trying to realise or the most complex problem they are trying to solve, then curate solutions around that. A solutions-based approach creates value.”
2. Communicate well
Too many times, new clients speak of former accountants who never returned calls or responded to emails, says Sonia Gibson CA, founder and director of Sydney’s Accounting Heart practice.
“If you want to build trust and hold onto your clients, then be relatable, approachable and reliable, and communication is the key to that,” she says.
“I’ve often heard clients say they felt their former accountant didn’t have time for them, so they went looking for a new accountant who did. Being accessible is fundamental to retention.”
3. Take the lead
Setting a performance standard where the accountant is the proactive party can go a long way in building a powerful dynamic with the client.
“You must be on the front foot, be instructive and tell the client what you need in order to provide great service,” says Ellingsen from Accumulate Accountants.
“Anticipate the clients’ needs and never sit back waiting for them to deliver reports and documents to you. If the client gets the sense you’re an accountant who’s on top of things, that’s a client who will remain committed.”
4. Allow clients to have their say
A client who feels able to have their say and that their feedback is valued will form a loyal bond, says Atkinson.
“People often avoid feedback and yet, it’s such an important opportunity to improve your service and connect with the client,” he explains.
Forrester says Deloitte undertakes an annual feedback strategy called the Client Voice Program, where 2000 client service interviews are conducted. “We spend time listening to our clients, understanding what we have done, what has created value and what forms strong client service delivery,” he says.
“We also learn when we have let them down. This feedback is invaluable for us to continue evolving.”
5. Keep up to date with housekeeping duties
Examining systems within an accounting business and how clients interact with them can be enlightening, says Ellingsen.
“You must know what your business is doing well, and what it is not,” he says. “If you have a client who’s leaving, have a candid conversation about why. It might be the most important conversation you’ve ever had with them.”
6. Let your clients do the talking
The power of word-of-mouth should never be underestimated, especially about what makes your service stand out in the marketplace.
As Deloitte’s Forrester says: “There is no better way to sell your way of doing business into the market than have your clients do it for you.”
Treat your clients well and they will not only stay, they may even find new clients to join your firm.
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