We frequently observe that owners of accounting firms care a lot about their clients. Yet many people who change companies feel they haven’t received the proper care from their former accountant. There is a marked gap in the intention of the professional accountant.
This is a phenomenon that we are experiencing directly with certain new clients. They usually tell us that their last business wasn’t proactive enough and didn’t deliver the value they expected. Yet, from interactions with hundreds of accounting professionals, we’ve seen first-hand that they generally care a lot about the people they work with.
So how can the accounting profession offer its clients a high added value service that reflects the firm’s concern? The answer may lie in creating an effective customer management strategy – an aspect that is often not sufficiently considered as businesses grow.
Managing clients is an essential aspect of effectively leading and managing a professional accounting firm and delivering ongoing value to clients. In addition, as your clients are the firm’s source of income, they are obviously at the heart of the sustainability and growth of your business.
It’s a good idea to manage the entire journey for each customer instead of expecting them to decide how, when, and what to buy from the company.
A customer management strategy has a template that every business can follow to ensure they are providing the necessary customer care to keep their business running and growing. Ignoring this ecosystem can impact resources and result in customers receiving a lower level of service.
There are three stages where customer management is particularly important: onboarding, pricing, and more generally in your business model.
This is the first step when you start working with a new client before they receive services. One thing that has emerged as a good practice during this phase is to make sure that the customers you engage are a good match for the way you do business. This is the key to building a sustainable business that you and your staff value.
The process of admitting new clients can be slowed down to the point where you can create space for value judgments, where you and potential clients can decide whether or not to work together. When the sales process is slowed down in this way, you can reassure the customer while increasing the perceived value of your work.
Some aspects – or the whole process – can be virtualized, for example using Zoom conferences and shared documents. It is now possible to operate a virtual business, and with the current pandemic situation, it is even an encouraged practice.
The ultimate goal of the customer onboarding phase should be to align with the potential customer, immerse themselves in real discovery of their needs, and prepare them for pricing.
Pricing is the second phase and occurs before the start of the service. Determining the value of pricing is usually a skill that takes time and practice to master. Here are some questions we suggest asking potential new customers to help set the price:
- Why are you looking for a new accountant? Why now?
- What do you hope to accomplish by working with our company? What do you see in us that interested you?
- How will we know it’s successful?
- What has prevented your business from solving this problem in the past? What could prevent your business from achieving these results in the future?
- What will your business look like in two years?
- What keeps you from sleeping at night?
- What wakes you up in the morning?
- What have you appreciated in your past relationships with coaches or financial advisers?
- If working with our firm requires more time, can you devote that time? What are you willing to say no to for our collaboration to be a success?
- What are all the issues to deal with?
- Did we understand correctly? What did we not ask to have?
Here are some practical observations on different types of pricing:
- Hourly billing lends itself to a faster, more commodity-driven business model. Hourly billing requires no client assessment, no conversation about what the client may enjoy, and gives the client control so the firm knows what to do. Billing by the hour is the fastest form of running a business because it takes little time to attract new customers to the business. Any customer is welcome to visit a billing firm.
- Fixed pricing applies a single price to a service offered by the company. Note that this is different from value pricing, where only the customer has a price. Companies that offer monthly plans charge fixed prices.
- Billing in value is another form of hourly billing, but goes a step further. When the invoice is calculated, a mark-up is applied if the customer perceives a higher value than at the beginning of the services. This is a difficult model to operate as the influence of value with a customer begins at the start of a relationship, not after the job is done.
- Value price is the slowest form of a company’s business model. In a pricing business, there is essentially no price for services. Only customers have prices since all services can (and are) sold at different prices depending on what they value most.
Businesses don’t have to exclusively adopt one pricing or billing model, but can instead weigh their benefits and apply the different models to different customer groups or different divisions of a business (in large organizations). For example, companies providing consulting services would lend themselves to value-based pricing set by business owners, while the recurring accounting and tax revenues of many companies are suitable for a fixed pricing model.
Whichever pricing model you choose in your customer management strategy, value is central to helping the customer and the business align with service goals and payment.
The business model is the final phase where service occurs and is the team structure that you use to provide services.
How you manage the capacity of your business is fundamental for your business to be able to generate effective profits. Capacity management is based on several pillars:
- Time and place: These are the most controllable aspects of the ability. A company may ask its team to work for a period of time in places that offer the best productivity and the use of that capacity.
- Spirit and emotions: These elements are generally not controllable. These are simply what the humans who work in the company bring with them every day. They are not at all strategic, and you never know when problems may arise and prevent the professional from concentrating on his work. Business leaders need to be able to identify team inefficiencies if they are to generate profits for their growth, investments, and distributions. Strategic capacity management and forecasting is the key to turning the right amount of revenue into effective profits.
- Project management: This is about managing the scope of your services, assigning work to team members, and managing the associated software products in which this management resides. Project management is the basis of service and this is how a business owner knows what work is flowing in their business and what is being handled properly.
This is a high-level overview of the customer management journey, and we hope it helps you navigate this topic. Managing customers is an important issue in any business. Without a solid vision of what this means, business owners and customers alike will struggle. Tackling topics like customer management sets a business apart for delivering immense value, which in turn justifies higher prices in the market it serves.