The relationship you have with your clients is fundamental to the value of your accounting practice.
For many practices, referrals are a key source of business – so establishing deeper client relationships makes good commercial sense.
Client retention is another good reason to focus on your client relationships, with countless studies affirming that it costs far less to retain a client than it does to acquire a new one.
So how can you enhance client relationships to grow your practice? Here are four ways:
- Focus on developing people skills
Accounting is a service-based business with human relationships at its core. This is particularly the case today than ever before.
As more accountants move from number crunching to delivering more value-added services, people skills, the ability to manage client relationships and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly critical.
Commonly abbreviated as EQ (Emotional Quotient), emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, understand and control your emotions and handle those of others in a positive and empathetic way. According to a 2019 Australian Financial Review study, 77% of accountants say emotional intelligence, along with critical thinking, will be the most important skills they will need over the next five years, compared with just 36% who nominated technical and sector-specific expertise.
Hiring for and developing these skills in your staff will therefore be critical to differentiate your practice and remain competitive.
- Communicate regularly and show appreciation
Communication is key to cultivating a good relationship with your clients. While many practices do keep in regular touch with their clients, one in three only do so once per quarter.¹
Communicating regularly to stay up to date with your clients’ changing business needs is critical to retaining them. Thirty one percent of SMEs say the main reason they have switched accountants is because their business needs changed, making it the number one reason for doing so.
Take the time to listen to your clients, including reading their body language and emotions. Try to make every client feel like they’re your most important one. Treat them as individuals and always use their name. If they drop by the office, introduce them to your colleagues and give them the impression your entire team is dedicated to providing the best possible service.
Podcast: Harnessing software for building relationships
Join host Sarah Kendell and Gary Weisz, director of strategic accounts and alliances for accountants at Sage, as they discuss how software can help accounting practices enhance relationships with clients, as well as improve efficiency, communication and collaboration.
- Identify your ideal clients
Like for most accounting practices, your clients vary. Some are simply easier to deal with and more profitable to your practice, while others consume a disproportionate amount of time and effort, while delivering less revenue.
You may have heard of the Pareto Principle, which states that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Keeping this principle in mind, it may be useful to look at your client list and identify those 20% of clients who are the most difficult and least profitable – and consider if they are worth retaining.
Conversely, identifying the 20% of your clients who are the most profitable and easy to deal with can help you ascertain the characteristics that make them so. Knowing these characteristics – those of your ideal client – will help you focus on identifying and acquiring similar clients in the future.
- Invest in the right technology
Today’s practice management software can help you become more client-centric – so you can easily manage and get the most out of your client relationships.
Solutions like Sage HandiSoft help accountants consolidate their client data, providing a central hub where their whole team can access all the relevant and up-to-date information about their clients.
You can easily track all your interactions with your clients, and your entire team can access the same client information to ensure you give them a consistent and personalised experience.
These solutions also allow you to create client portals, where you can interact with clients and create a secure place to share newsletters and other communications.
 Financial Review Top 100 Accounting Firms for 2019
 “Key Insights into the Australian Accounting Industry”, NAB Professional Services, 2018