Accountancy is an industry going through a lot of change. Matters such as making tax digital and Brexit will test accountants in the next few years and irrevocably change how they work.
Added to that are business challenges, the accountancy landscape is evolving and becoming more competitive.
While accountants are great at building relationships and acting as trusted advisers, they need to modernise their approach to drive a broader understanding of customers, target services more effectively and join up services across the practice. This will help them to identify opportunities to cross sell and upsell accountancy and taxation services.
Embracing technology is at the heart of this evolution.
A lot of firms are still very spreadsheet reliant, with different teams using multiple documents. This leads to fragmented systems and disparate processes. With a single view of the client and a cross practice approach underpinned by technology, accountants can drive better customer understanding and tailor their services.
They can improve their communication with their customer base, conduct targeted marketing and increase the new business effort.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has a key role to play in helping accountants improve their professionalism in business development and marketing practices.
The importance of happy clients
Happy clients are key to high client retention rates for accountancy practices. If a client is satisfied with the auditing services it is receiving, they might be open to hearing more about taxation services or outsourced payroll solutions.
Improved monitoring of client satisfaction and engagement is really beneficial, as it ensures unhappy clients are identified. If warning signs are picked up early on, this can trigger proactive communication and engagement from the firm to identify the problem and turn the situation around, preventing the client from leaving suddenly or drifting away with no warning.
Proactive account management, a robust customer service process and regular measurement of client satisfaction are all steps in the right direction towards happier clients, a better client retention rate and better traction with cross selling or upselling.
Proactive account management
Many accounting firms don’t have a formal account management (AM) structure in place. Traditionally, partners have owned the client relationship. But keeping and maximising customer value is more than just about building personal relationships – it should also be a process that can be measured and managed.
Proactive account management can help to plan and monitor customer engagement, to ensure consistency in the customer management process and ultimately help firms retain and grow the client. For example:
- Client profiling and tiering: if an accountancy firm has 1000 clients and a team of five AMs, it is not feasible for all clients to receive the same level of service. Tiering clients gives a practice insight into the areas it needs to focus on, and it can create an approach for each tier. The profile might include how much budget the client currently spends, potential revenue and other services they might be interested in. This could inform marketing activity directed at the client.
- Best practice client management: client profiling and proactive AM will lead to establishing best practice. For example, the firm might decide the best approach to engage tier one clients is a monthly face to face meeting. Tier two clients might warrant a quarterly face to face meeting and monthly calls. This should be adopted across all tier one and tier two accounts. If this process is defined and documented, the team knows what to deliver and clients know what to expect.
- Measurement and evaluation: the AM should always gauge key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure the practice is delivering. Regular satisfaction surveys are a great way to do this and will identify any problem areas and flag up cross selling opportunities.
Embedding account management in CRM
Embedding good account management processes within the practice’s CRM system is pivotal to its success. Best practice procedures will help ensure everything is being done properly. It will also help the account management team to report on progress – whether that is client retention rates or cross selling and upselling success.
For example the CRM dashboard should be configured to suit the team’s requirements – they might be able to see all customer care calls for a month, how many calls have been made and how many were completed or need to be rescheduled. This information can help account management teams plan their resource allocation and their priorities.
No matter how good an accounting practice is, not all clients are happy all of the time. They might have an issue with a recently conducted audit or they might not gel with a member of the team. Whatever the problem, identifying it early and trying to find a solution will improve client satisfaction.
It is important for accounting practices to act on the insight generated by CRM. Extracting intelligence to identify clients who need attention, uncover opportunities for sales and proactively manage the customer base will help a practice with cross selling and upselling initiatives.
French Duncan, an accountancy firm, employing 200 people in five offices across Scotland implemented CRM within their company. Colin Abercrombie, who was initially in charge of the project at the firm, explained, “The single client view is massive here. It allows us to view all the key bits of data for any particular client. So you know you have the correct email address, contact number and place of work, and we’ve configured the system to enhance cross-selling opportunities.
He estimated that improved access to correct records would save around £500,000 a year in reclaimed time alone. They’d also gained an improved prospects funnel, including numerous inbound leads which they converted into clients.
The importance of CRM for accountants is undeniable. Technology and the formalisation of new business processes are an integral part of business life. A robust approach to CRM can help accountants retain and grow their client base through effective, informed cross selling and upselling.
And it’s not just a revenue benefit. CRM can help with improving staff productivity, stopping the duplication of effort by teams across the practice and ensuring all processes and systems are seamless and joined up.
Accounting practices need to move out of their comfort zone and embrace technology. Not to do so is to miss out on all those cross-selling and upselling opportunities that are just waiting to be identified.