7 useful tips tax professionals can use to improve client service

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Most people may think accounting is purely about dollars and cents. Admittedly, much of a tax professional’s day-to-day tasks probably revolve around all-things financial, but there’s more to the job than crunching numbers.

One aspect many may not think about—but is just as crucial to an accountant’s success as anything—is client service.

The importance of client service

No matter what kinds of clients you have, they all have one thing in common: They are people. Any client-facing role inherently has some service-related tasks, although they may not always be framed that way.

Just as it is with any other profession, client service plays a role in whether someone decides to do business with you, which can affect the longevity of your relationship. In fact, research by HubSpot found 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases from businesses with excellent client service. Not only that, but researchers at Yale found higher rates of satisfaction can also lead to more word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals, the most valuable kind of marketing you can get to help attract new clients.

In order to reap the rewards of a positive client experience, you need to make an investment in your client service. Here are seven ways any tax professional can implement to provide standout service.

1. Know your audience 

While many professionals work with a wide range of clients, each one probably has specific areas they’re most interested in, different levels of knowledge, or items that are more relevant to them based on their specific circumstances.

As Jenny Rush, CPA and controller at Help Scout, notes, “We deliver financial information in the form of numbers, but we also have to build a story around those numbers to interpret them. Learning the technical aspects of the craft can be challenging, but being able to take those concepts and lay them out in a way that is consumable for anyone is harder.”

Consider creating a short questionnaire you have any new or current client fill out to better understand what their primary areas of interest are, preferred contact method, level of knowledge, and even frequency of contact. After getting those answers, add them as a note to their client file so you can reference it later.

Since a client’s needs may shift, you could make it a practice to have them review previous answers and update anything that may have changed on a yearly basis. That way, you’re always up-to-date and reminding your clients that they’re important.

2. Set expectations (and meet them)

Mismatched expectations can prove problematic in almost any line of work. Add in the additional sensitivity that exists when you’re handling someone’s finances, and the stakes get even higher.

As part of the questionnaire, you could include a few specific questions to get an idea of what your client expects of you. Some example questions could be:

  • What was something your previous accountant did that you liked?
  • What was something they could have done better? 
  • Is it more important to you to get a quick response or a thorough one? 
  • How quickly do you expect a response when reaching out?

Once you have that information, you could draft an informal agreement between you and the client, and save it to their client file to have for reference. If you really want to dive deep, you could send out the agreement at the end of the year and ask your clients to provide feedback on how you performed based on the parameters of the agreement.

3. Communicate proactively

When you work in a certain field long enough, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking clients know more than they do. Although something may be common knowledge within the profession, expecting everyone to have that same level of expertise is a recipe for disaster, and part of the reason proactive communication is so important.

As Rush points out, “Sometimes people don’t know what deadline might be coming up or what compliance item they may need to address so people appreciate it if you bring those to their attention proactively.”

For example, if you hear about a new law or regulation going into effect that could impact a certain client, you could send a note their way about the change and give them some pointers on how to prepare. Having information like that as early as possible could save a lot of headaches and shows you’re actively engaged with their account.

Romeo Razi, CPA and founder of TaxedRight.com, has a monthly email newsletter he sends out to his blog subscribers with reminders, updates, and key dates to keep in mind. Romeo uses a number of email subject line writing techniques to improve open rates and readership of his newsletter. This helps keep his current clients stay informed and works as a great marketing tactic for prospective clients.

4. Empower clients to help themselves 

Sometimes, great service means making it so your clients don’t have to reach out to you at all. Self-service tools mean clients are able to get answers when they need them, without waiting.

You could create a knowledge base, and include articles about common tax filing deadlines, what types of expenses qualify as a business expenditure, and other common questions clients may have. I recently heard of an accountant who created a VIP Slack channel just for their clients.

Offering online payment options or Intuit® eSignature can be very convenient for clients. If you want to go a step further, products such as Intuit Lacerte® Tax and ProSeries® Tax let you create custom portals through SmartVault where clients can simply and securely upload documents hassle free.

5. Embrace technology 

You could, in theory, track a client’s expenses in an Excel spreadsheet, but instead choose to use QuickBooks® Online for one reason: It’s better. Using technology, especially real-time processes, saves you time, reduces errors, and makes for an overall better experience for you and your clients.

The same is true with client service. Trying to manage client requests with issue tracking tools not built for that purpose expressly is possible, but certainly not preferable. There are a few different types of client service software that could help make things better:

  • Shared inbox: A shared inbox is a tool where multiple people are able to access incoming messages. Most shared inboxes include different organization and collaboration tools teams can use to improve customer service.
  • Live chat software: If you want to communicate with clients in real-time, live chat software can be a good option. Even if it is not as resource intensive as phone support, it still has the immediacy aspect. According to a recent customer service software review, live chat leads to higher satisfaction ratings when compared to phone support (82% satisfied vs 44% for phone).
  • Knowledge base software: Knowledge base software lets you create, organize, host, and manage self-service content.
  • Help desk: Help desk software is usually a catchall term for service platforms comprising a number of the tools mentioned above. There are three major categories of help desk software: cloud based hosted on a vendor’s website, self-hosted installed on your own servers, and open source that lets your developers customize it any way they like. If you’re interested in using a number of different tools, a help desk is probably your best option.

Figuring out exactly what software works best for you may take some time, but there are a few things you should look for in any option you’re considering:

  • Multi-channel coverage: Find a tool that covers the different channels you communicate with clients through. For example, if you email clients and want to create a knowledge base with answers for FAQs to reference in your emails, find a solution with both those capabilities.
  • Intuitive interface: If something is difficult to use, chances are you won’t use it. Do trials of any tool you’re seriously considering. No amount of demos, or walkthrough videos can match actually getting hands-on with a product.
  • Reporting and metrics: One of the biggest advantages of having a dedicated tool is understanding your performance. If a tool doesn’t include those insights, you may not be getting as much out of it as you could be.

6. Audit your efforts 

Just as you audit a client’s accounts to make sure everything is in order, you need to do the same with your service. There are several ways you can go about doing this:

  • Ask for feedback: One of the best things you can do is ask the people you’re serving how you’re doing. You could send out a year-end or quarterly satisfaction survey to get an idea of how you’re performing. Or, you could set up times with a few clients and ask for feedback in those sessions.
  • Automate the review process: Many firms are asking their clients to rate their service through online reviews that can be published on Google My Business and other forums. You can automate the review process with several marketplace vendors.
  • Look at metrics (if you have them): If you’re using a help desk or something similar, chances are there’s some sort of reporting function. Most track things like how long it took you to respond to a request on average, how long it took to resolve the issue, and how many messages were sent on average.

Any method will work, but it’s best if you can do a mix. The combination of sources paints a more complete picture for you and your clients.

7. Make changes when necessary

The simple truth is this: You can’t conquer client service. No matter how good you are, there will always be room for improvement. Being willing to make those improvements is what will set you apart.

Take any feedback offered to heart and see if there are practical ways to address any client concerns that come up. You might not be able to do it all … and that’s okay. Find the areas that have the highest potential impact and focus on those first.

If you can’t fix something right away, make sure you acknowledge the feedback you received. It shows you’re engaged and interested, even if you’re not able to address it immediately.

Moving forward  

Client service may not be the hottest topic around the water cooler at your firm, but that doesn’t mean it should get any less attention than anything else. Clients are the lifeblood of your business, and if you don’t take care of them, they’ll find someone who will.

Take time and invest in the effort you’re putting forth. Look for tools that can help make things better for everyone involved, and don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. As it is with anything, what you put in is what you’re bound to get out. Be earnest in your efforts and it will pay off in the long run.

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