tax professional with clients
tax professional with clients

Take Control of Your Client Base: Practical Retention Tips

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Over the last several years, competing for clients within the accounting profession has changed. As clients become more aware of all the available options for our services, it is getting harder and harder to retain our client base. Clients are starving for engagement and want to feel connected to us; if they don’t feel that connection, they will go elsewhere.

My firm does outsourced bookkeeping with small businesses across the country, and we work with several tax professionals. I see small businesses that are frustrated with their tax professionals and are aching for more from them. But, don’t fret; instead of suggesting you do more for your clients, what we need is to change how we communicate, engage and interact with our clients.

It’s time to balance the value given by the service provider with the value perceived by the client. There is a ton of logistical, detailed work that must be done, but clients don’t understand or see the value they are getting. Here are five ways we can show our value to our clients and strengthen these relationships:

#1 – Reinforce the value given. Create a quick snapshot template to provide clients a summary of the work you have done and completed for them. I still do this in Excel. This template doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply share the points you want your clients to know most. Then, rinse and repeat.

#2 – Make your clients feel “heard.” Tax season is not really the time to sit down with each of your clients and hear/learn everything that is going on with them. If your practice is not working with clients on a monthly basis, think about another time of year that might work better.

Make an appointment with the client (even a call will do), pull out their tax return, make some notes and simply ask the client how their business is doing. Ask about their goals. Who knows, you might even find some planning or research work out of the deal. Regardless what you discuss, connect with them so they feel like you really care about what is going on in their business and keep the notes in their file so you can reference them later.

#3 – Reply faster. This is going to be hard, I know, but there are tools out there to help. When a client reaches out for help, he or she have probably exhausted all other sources, so it’s important that you offer an answer as soon as possible. If you are slammed, simply manage the client’s expectations. Knowing when the client might get a reply is better than never hearing anything from you.

If you give the same answer over and over again to clients for certain questions, consider creating an FAQ area on your site that you can refer them to, or even create some canned email responses so that all you have to do is copy and paste the answer.

#4 – Become a team player. Realize that taxes are just one facet of business. You provide a very important role but don’t work in a silo. If a question comes up that isn’t in your wheelhouse or needs more than one perspective (i.e. what entity someone should the client set up), refer them to someone else, or offer to have a conference call so all the advisors can work as a team to help the client.

As soon as a client asks me a tax question, I quickly refer them to their tax preparer and will even offer to help with the communication, or help provide the tax preparer more of the picture so that they can better answer the question.

Remember, too, that it’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know it all. In fact, clients usually appreciate it more when you admit you don’t have all the answers. Being a business owner is a very lonely job and nothing connects with them more than when they feel like that have a trustworthy team.

#5 – Find ways to surprise and delight. Tips #1, #2 and #3 are meant to create a relationship with your clients; #4 is the cherry on top, but you can do even more. For example, send a handwritten thank you note. Congratulate them on their business anniversary or send a birthday card. You have that information on the tax return, right?

When you put all five tips into action, you will most definitely grow a deeper relationship with your client base – and that relationship will make it harder for them to leave you. Even though it might not be obvious to you, your clients are constantly making the decision to “buy” from you year after year. Don’t let it just be the easy choice – make it the only choice; they can’t find another tax provider who knows them, understands their situation, and respects and values their business as much as you do.

Editor’s Note: The Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center has several related articles for you to read: “5 Keys to a Successful Tax Practice” and “How to Ask Your Clients for Online Reviews.” Check them out!

2 responses to “Take Control of Your Client Base: Practical Retention Tips”

  1. How do you determine your fee base? I am new and just now picking up clients, just trying to figure out how to charge. I do not want to over charge but at the same time I do not want to under charge expecially when they are requesting for me to do everything.

    • Jeannine,
      That is a great question and really hard to answer! Here is another article you can reference, How Do Your Tax Preparation Fees Stack Up? Since you are starting out, you might not have an idea of how much long things will take, so you might want to consider to bill hourly. But, you also need to look at your competitors to see how you stack up. I always heard that you don’t want to start out at too low of an hourly rate because it is hard to raise the rate. I’ve also had the experience of charging a flat fee and being totally burned on a project because I had no clue how much was involved. It is all a learning process when you start out. Maybe you charge an hourly rate, but internally discount some of that time if you consider it “learning” time? I wish you the best of luck!!