By Patrick McLoughlin
This week I gathered our accountants marketing managers together to ask them what most annoys business owners about their accountants.
They speak to hundreds of businesses owners every week about their accountants. They are the experts at asking the right questions to pinpoint their pains and problems.
Some of these common complaints are simply a reflection of bad service. Others are down to not managing clients' expectations.
1) They Make Me Feel Stupid
"There's only so many times I can ask the same question and tell them I don't understand their answer."
If your clients don't understand what you are doing for them, they are not going to appreciate your efforts. You can't expect loyalty or referrals from clients you can't communicate with.
To Do: Cut out the jargon, use graphs and charts to bring the figures to life. Practice explaining the intricacies of their directors loan account to someone with no technical knowledge.
2) Necessary Evil
"They might keep us compliant, but they bring no value to the business."
You might think clients can't demand the cheapest fee and then expect an indepth service? If so, I do understand where you are coming from. But, clients only demand low fees when they can't see value.
Do your clients understand the effort and processes that go into their work. The majority of business owners tell us they can't remember the last time their accountant sat down with them and tried to reduce their tax bill.
Does that mean the majority of accountants make no effort to minimise their clients tax liabilities? Or is it that they don't explain the work they have done or quantify the savings made?
Before dismissing your clients as perpetual moaners help them to understand the value you bring to their businesses. Don't be afraid to offer them higher levels of service. Just make sure you can quantify the benefits they will receive.
Too many business owners don't understand their accounts
3) Unexpected Accountancy Fees
"Despite quoting us a fixed fee, their bill always includes 'additional services."
Now this one I can really relate to. I fell out with 2 firms of accountants in 3 years over unexpected fees appearing in our year end invoice.
After the initial bad experience, I laboured the point with our new accountant, insisting additional fees must be agreed in advance. Yet the invoice arrived with a 50% increase on the amount agreed.
Worse still, when I complained he emailed me a rant insisting that I knew extra fees would apply because he had visited our offices!
To Do: Prevent this conflict from arising by agreeing fees in advance, with a signed order form, for additional services.
4) Only see our accountant once a year
"Our accountant is like Father Christmas; we only see him once a year. But he doesn't bring presents, just a bill."
I understand how difficult it is to provide the service you want to, for the low fee often demanded. In an ideal world all your clients would pay more for more. But, before we develop that client base of our dreams (it can be done) make sure your firm is client focused.
Put systems in place to ensure, clients get regular calls from your team. Make it routine to look for relevant news / articles that you can send over to clients. Consider structured client care research
It demonstrates your comittment to their service and identifies issues before they become problems.
5) Surprise Tax Bills
"They have had my accounts for months, yet they tell me 2 weeks before the deadline that my tax bill has doubled."
This really is a great way to lose business. It is also symptomatic of a firm on the slide. It is not about getting the work done, but surpassing clients expectations.
To Do: Agree minimum standards with your clients and your team. Tell them all work will be completed in a set number of weeks of receiving their accounts.
Business owners look to their accountants to keep them on track
6) Clients Don't Feel Valued
"They make it clear that we are a small fish in their big pond."
Professional arrogance lives on. I still regularly talk to Partners who refer to their clients with distain and contempt.
Take pride in your firm's work and make sure that all your clients get the same quality service.
To Do: lf you don't want to work with a client, tell them so. Don't provide a poor service in the hope they will leave you.
7) Rising Fees as the Workload Falls
"We use accounting software now so their workload has reduced dramatically but their fees haven't."
In the good times it's easy to take your eye off your overheads. But once sales level out or even drop, attention usually falls on costs.
Even though you provide 'professional services' you're still just another supplier who's fees fall under the magnifying glass.
The days of charging premium fees for average work are well and truly over. Clients are not idiots. Try taking them for a ride and they will walk away.
To Do: Just be sensible and price fairly.
Thanks to Richard, Candice, Amy, Bob and all our account managers for their help with this week's blog. In all the years we have been marketing for accountants, we have never had a more dedicated, and committed team.