In many ways, the world is a new place. The pandemic forced businesses and industries to evolve and pivot at a moment’s notice, embrace the cloud, and adjust to a hybrid virtual/in-person environment. It also affected how accountants build customer relationships.
Accountants experienced these changes twofold, at their firms and with the clients they serve. From virtual or socially distanced business meetings, to changing how to deliver important files, or adapting to more work because of the changes in legislation around taxes or small business loans—the accounting role has changed.
But how do these changes impact how accountants can build lasting, loyal client relationships in the new normal? This article explores factors that are coming into play and how accountants can successfully navigate them to build loyalty in their client base.
4 ways to prepare for the changing landscape of building customer relationships
While you likely honed a communications plan during the pandemic (and spent more than one night burning the midnight oil navigating how to explain the details surrounding PPP), it’s time to take a fresh look at how you build client relationships.
This landscape includes embracing technology in new ways. While accountants adjusted to working remotely– customers changed their behaviors and technology tools as well. Here’s how to prepare for what’s next.
1. Flexibility provides a path forward
You might find that a new path is needed to build customer relationships, and it should involve a balanced and flexible approach. Everyone is navigating a new reality, one that is murky at best. Is your business completely back in the office? Are your clients? Ensure you are meeting both your clients and staff where they are comfortably. Listen to their suggestions, and overcommunicate procedures with a positive, can-do attitude.
If your business has managed to remote work successfully using tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, there’s no doubt this can continue. Speak with your clients, ask what they are comfortable with, and make sure you are onboard and can flexibly adjust.
2. Accountants should formalize the customer relationships skills that got them through 2020
Accountants likely developed more skills building customer relationships in 2020 than they are aware of. During the pandemic, accountants and CPA were an SMB lifeline to navigate tough financial situations. It’s how your firm responded during this time that customers will remember, why they trust you, and why they’ll be loyal.
But, if you haven’t already, it’s time to fold these skills into your business plan. First, you need to carefully document how you advised clients. Can you record the procedures, the research hours, and the thought process and transform this into a formalized service offering? You may know which clients could use these services, but it’s critically important to remember to put the customer’s needs first, so make sure this is a good fit for the client before you proceed with a pitch.
3. Customer data is still king, but make sure you’re making the most of it
You can’t build customer relationships without customer data. If your firm’s customer service culture doesn’t revolve around your customer relationship management system (CRM), it’s time to fix that. After all, you want to be anticipatory of your client’s needs, so you can leverage your firm’s ability to quickly solve for issues that they might face.
Make sure your CRM, email, and business intelligence systems are integrated and up to date. This will make getting the right messaging to the right customers at the right time way easier. For example, if there’s breaking legislation that affects some of your small business clients, you’ll be much better off if you have segmented lists at the ready for when your informational email goes out.
To go above and beyond customer expectations, your culture should center around finding efficient solutions for the customer’s needs. With the right tools in place, your team can pull the customer’s history and ensure they are getting a 360 view of factors that may affect current issues at hand.
4. It’s time to train up the admin role at your firm
Embrace automation and develop your administrative team members. It is past time that these professionals let go of some of the manual processes eating up their days. With the possibilities AI and machine learning offer, inputting data into spreadsheets should be left in the past. Instead, your firm can “train up” these valuable team members and add more value to both their day-to-day work and your firm’s customer relationship goals.
Admin professionals can be successfully trained to interact with customers, take more project management capabilities, and spearhead the efforts of identifying which processes to automate. Align their skillsets with more strategic projects and you’ll see it pay out dividends in their career development and your firm’s customer relations goals.
As client needs and expectations change in the face of shifting world realities, your accounting firm needs to be on speed dial as a trusted advisor. Implementing flexible change with the right tools, skills, and mindset will go a long way in building lasting customer relationships.