Want to keep your clients happy this end of financial year (EOFY)? Focusing on client engagement is a great place to start.
As all accountants know, EOFY is generally the busiest time of the year — which also means there’s the risk some clients could fall off the radar. And if your clients feel undervalued, it could ultimately cost you their business.
But at the same time, EOFY is also an excellent opportunity for firms to demonstrate value to their clients and build stronger relationships.
Barry Hayes — who was named as Count’s 2016 Pinnacle Award winner for his exceptional contribution to the industry — is a partner with Melbourne-based firm Hayes Girling Financial. According to Hayes, in a combined accounting and financial advice practice like Hayes Girling, EOFY is the time when the firm’s accounting division can really shine.
“On the financial planning side of the business, client relationships are continuous and ongoing,” he said. “However, accountants have a big group of clients coming in for tax services at EOFY, which creates opportunities to transition those clients to more value-adding advisory services.”
Show what you can do
While the financial advice process focuses heavily on each client’s ambitions and values, accounting tends to be more transactional. Even so, there are plenty of opportunities for accountants to build deeper relationships with their clients.
“For accountants who don’t find ways to better engage their clients and show additional value, there’s always the potential for those clients to drop off and go elsewhere,” said Hayes.
Accountants can engage their clients in a number of ways. For instance, they can ask each client about their lifestyle goals and show how they can help the client achieve them. Or with small business clients, the accountant could offer add-on services in areas like cash flow management, budgeting or business planning.
“With our SME clients, we’ve set standard fee structures for services like doing their BAS every quarter,” Hayes explained. “This allows us to regularly interact with those clients — and we also find that clients with agreed fees in place are more engaged than those without them.”
Find out what clients really want
Clients whose needs are being met are far more likely to stay with their service provider than those who feel dissatisfied. But rather than trying to second-guess what your clients want, ask them which boxes you’re already ticking for them — and where you have room to improve.
“Leading up to EOFY, we did a survey of around 40 of our clients,” said Hayes. “While most of them described us as professional and responsive, many were unaware of services we offer in areas like wealth protection and aged care — which meant we were missing out on opportunities to provide those additional services to clients.”
EOFY is the ideal time to let your accounting clients know about the range of services you offer — whether it’s through a client newsletter, a targeted email or face to face when they come in to do their tax.
Hayes added: “We have also set up an automatically generated survey that goes out to clients after we’ve finalised their tax return. We ask them to give their feedback on the process, so we can find out how we can continue to improve next EOFY.”
Use feedback wisely
Hayes stresses that it’s not enough to merely collect feedback — you need to act on it.
“Part of our survey focused on client expectations for response times — from how long they expected a tax return or Statement of Advice to take, to how quickly they think we should return their phone calls,” he said.
“I have now built this feedback into a client service standard for all our advisers and accountants, so that everyone is aware of the minimum standards our clients expect from the firm.”
When it’s time to let go
Hayes admits that in some instances, breaking up with a client may be the best option for all parties.
“Sometimes we have clients who don’t value the service we provide and or aren’t willing to follow our advice,” said Hayes. “Then, there are others who want to push the boundaries outside the scope of work we’ve agreed on, but aren’t willing to pay for it.”
In these cases, Hayes says it’s sometimes best to graciously let the client go, so they can find a provider who is more aligned to their expectations.
“Above all, don’t take it personally,” he said. “Use your energy to provide a better service for clients who value your services and are willing to follow your recommendations.”