(By Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants and Alliances at Sage)
As technology continues to disrupt industries and reshape conventional work methodologies, the world of accounting as we know it has evolved as well. Transformation is rampant and shifting client requirements today mandate accountants to provide an expanded range of services. As the profession takes on a whole new dimension, so too must accounting firms adopt new ways of working to ensure their businesses keep one step ahead of their competitors.
With a multi-generational client base, accounting firms are under more pressure than ever before to find their niche and provide value. Ultimately, clients are in search of firms that provide best-in-class experiences in addition to standard bookkeeping services.
As part of this priority, accounting firms must renew their focus on building strong relationships through aligning their branding with that of their clients. Doing so requires a shift in the corporate culture and mindset across all levels of the business from the top-down.
Here are some key considerations that accounting firms can implement to build customer relationships and future-proof their firms.
(Jennifer Warawa, Executive Vice President of Partners, Accountants and Alliances at Sage)
The Client Experience
Firms must start by fostering a client-oriented culture and forging deeper synergies with clients through building a forward-looking brand and delivering beyond the client’s expectations. According to research from Salesforce, the world's leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform, 81% of clients believe the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. Rather than focusing solely on bookkeeping and annual audits, accounting firms must now also provide personalised and engaging client experiences. Listed below are some tactics that accounting firms can implement to achieve happy clients:
-Hire diverse skill sets. Accounting firms seeking to make themselves indispensable to their clients will need a wider range of skill sets. A good option is to hire outside of the traditional accountant skill set and bring on board creative thinkers, strong communicators, tech innovators and project managers. The more varied the workforce and versatile its skills, the better prepared the firm is to adapt to client needs.
-Understand the client journey. With changing client attitudes, there are greater expectations today in terms of services and resources than was the case just five years ago, according to the Sage 2018 Practice of Now report. Rather than simply focusing on the bottom line, firms should focus on the importance of understanding the client’s journey, building trust and communicating regularly.
-Personalise. Today’s clients want to be able to choose how quickly they can access the knowledge their accountant holds and the different types of services they receive. Through providing a tiered set of services – such as offering additional business development consultancy for higher paying clients – accounting firms enable clients to choose the ones they want, resulting in a personalised service and a positive experience.
-Deliver indispensable services. Firms must focus on efficiency and modernise time consuming legacy processes that hold accountants back from doing their job – such as manual data entry. The thrust should be on the quality of the work and the value derived from it, rather than just the number of hours invested in each project.
Ultimately, accounting firms should endeavour to become an integral part of their clients’ businesses to foster long-term and lasting relationships – essential partners in daily operations.
Don’t Stand Still
The secret to building and maintaining strong client relationships is to prepare for frequent change. Needless to say, client requirements shift constantly in today’s dynamic environment, and that’s okay. What accounting firms need to remember is to check in with employees and clients on a regular basis and redefine relationships as those needs evolve. While bookkeeping and number crunching will always be central functions for accountants, the client experience is what sets leading firms apart. Only through innovating continually, embracing technology as it evolves and delivering best-in-class services that clients have come to expect can they not just survive but thrive.