For more than 15 years, Mitch Reno has been leading business development for Rehmann, one of the nation’s largest CPA and consulting firms. Today, as principal and Director of Client Experience, he is instrumental in driving client retention, loyalty and satisfaction while working closely with firm leadership on strategy and growth initiatives. With Mitch at the client experience (CX) helm, the organization has received extensive recognition for its client-retention efforts, including the 2016 Best of Accounting™ Award, given to less than 1% of accounting firms nationwide.
According to Mitch, the key to Rehmann’s success is making each client feel like they’re the center of attention. As Mitch explains, in this industry and others, more organizations are recognizing the need to consider the entire experience a client has with the organization, from start to conclusion of the relationship. “Every touch and interaction with a client has either an additive or negative impact on overall relationship satisfaction, loyalty and retention. As a result, organizations must determine what they can offer beyond providing a particular compliance deliverable for maximum interaction impact.”
To achieve new levels of loyalty and retention, Mitch advises that firms employ three key strategies:
1. Understand Client Needs
The accounting industry has long been driven by a compliance-minded orientation than a future-oriented mindset. While the compliance focus has served its clients well for many decades, today’s clients are looking for something more. To better position themselves, firms need to first understand clients’ needs and then find new ways to serve them. Taking a page from the playbook of other industries, they could conduct research, hold focus groups and even co-innovate with their clients. This, combined with advisors digging in more deeply to understand clients’ short- and long-term needs, can go a long way to providing needed insights.
2. Advise and Surprise
In many cases, firms are behind in developing and delivering the services that today’s clients are demanding. Too many accounting firms simply provide standard services and deliverables. The role of the CPA has been to share historic information. Instead, they need to find new and innovative ways to present future forecasted information to clients. The future business advisor must provide 10% historical information and 90% advisory and future-focused guidance.
3. Upscale the Client Experience
A common client complaint in the industry is about paying too much for deliverables. Firms can upend this by delivering value in the following ways:
- Ensure a superior level of accessibility and responsiveness at all times.
- Explain clearly in what ways an investment in the firm drives value.
- Be proactive and innovative by knowing their industry, staying abreast of trends, and offering fresh ideas that help clients achieve more success.
Firms that can successfully hit upon these elements eliminate the cost complaint and instead drive loyalty and retention.
Barriers to Success
According to Mitch, to move forward, the industry must break free from its compliance-minded culture. This is no small task yet essential if the industry is to innovate beyond today.
Moreover, while advisors may feel they lack the time for additional value-add activities, Mitch says it’s not a matter of time. “It’s about re-engineering how we handle common tasks and creating a different experience for the client. For example, what if rather than spend 1.5 hours reviewing historic information in a quarterly review, advisors spent just 10 minutes on the review? They could then spend the other 80 minutes on advising their clients on how to use the information to make better business decisions that drive profitability and growth,” explains Mitch.
If the industry can get past the culture and time issues (or as Mitch calls them, CX business and process reinvention), it must address advisor skill sets. Advisor skills for relationship management and business development are often lacking. “Advisors need the right skills to bring this to life, and that will require retraining or different talent altogether. With the impending and huge exodus of Baby Boomers, the next generation of advisors must step in earlier than expected and respond to demanding customers who are not interested in the compliance-driven mindset,” continues Mitch.
This requires that firms re-engineer their processes and call upon dynamic individuals who can help clients manage their businesses to better outcomes.
Calling Upon Technology
Once firms sort through the issues described above, Mitch advises they make use of technology to help deliver an experience that drives satisfaction, retention, and loyalty. In particular, Mitch highlights three ways technology can make an impact:
- Makes the experience effortless. The right technology can increase the ease of doing business. That means it requires little training while ensuring effortless experiences for clients.
- Enables close interactions. In today’s world, fewer advisor-client interactions are face to face. The goal is to use technology to replace those interactions in a way that feels as intimate as face-to-face ones.
- Improves efficiency. Rather than make processes and interactions cumbersome and difficult, firms need to leverage technology that streamlines and improves those processes and interactions.
In light of the fact that so many new players – including consulting organizations and financial advisors – are offering tax and other accounting-focused services at a competitive price, Mitch underscores that accounting firms are under pressure to distinguish themselves. “Should they fail to do so, many will go out of business. The few who are able to make themselves acquisition targets will likely see low bids for firms offering little in the way of distinct market value. However, those that successfully make the transition will better serve their clients and evolve to being viewed as valued business advisors rather than traditional accountants,” he concludes.
Here are four more steps firms can take to retain their clients.