Veronica Malloy, PDR Certified Public Accountants
As the accounting industry continues to evolve and pricing becomes more competitive, how has your firm differentiated itself from the competition? What attributes of your service offerings make your brand unique and valued by clients? These are questions that every marketer should have in mind when creating a brand vision and strategy for their firm.
At the AAM Summit this year, I was happy to have attended the session, Marketing’s New Role in Client Engagement and Retention, led by Directors of Client Experience Leisa Gill from LBMC and Mitch Reno from Rehmann. They explained that the next competitive differentiator for CPA firms is exceptional client experiences, changing the way we interact with clients and increase client retention.
Evolution of the Accounting Industry
In the past, firms differentiated themselves by their geographic location – limiting the scope of their services to the local community. As the accounting industry grew, firms started to make specialization in service areas or industries their competitive advantage. Now, unique client experiences are the key differentiators for firm growth.
Mitch explained that there are four different ways to grow your firm’s revenue:
- Increase pricing
- Mergers & acquisitions
- Organic growth
The cost of driving new revenue is very high – it costs six to seven times more to get a new client than to keep an existing client. He continued by saying that organizations that continue to improve relationships with existing clients see on average anywhere from 5-95 percent more profitability. We have always been focused on firm growth but not as much on client retention and taking care of our existing clients.
Marketers Role in Client Experience
Marketers need to be at the forefront of developing a brand and vision strategy that differentiates a good service from a good experience through the deliverables that the client experiences. Meaning, your job has transformed and has become the agent of change to provide those deliverables, to help your peers differentiate those experiences.
Leisa explained four main factors that affect the client experience:
- How you plan to differentiate your firm from the competition
- Development of your brand promise, value proposition, & what it looks like
- Cost associated with your brand promise & not doing that
- Continuous improvement in your firm
Interacting with clients, conducting marketing research, and using client data are activities all marketers should be performing to create these exceptional client experiences.
The Client Experience Agility Framework
Leisa and Mitch laid out a five-step framework that encompasses the client experience model:
- Vision Brand and Strategy: The core values, vision, and mission that make your firm unique; teach these to people and explain their role in delivering this value and experience to clients.
- Service Model and Sales Processes: Consistency across your brand, practice groups, and service delivery is important. It is important to make sure everyone’s communication of the brand delivers the same type of valuable experience for each client.
- Metrics, Technology, & Reporting: Your firm needs to position itself to be in a growth and sustainability mode – looking at metrics such as client satisfaction, retention, and loyalty and determining what components help drive growth. Your firm also will need to start placing focus on the client through the use of technology, by aggregating data more effectively to see what is happening at one time. This information will assist your teams in having one common vision of how to deliver a unique client experience.
- Training & Internal Communication: Clients are now wanting to work with accounting firms that have ‘business minds,’ bringing innovation and ideas to the service experience. The era has passed where having just accounting, audit, or tax expertise is enough. Clients want professionals to have an overall picture of their business and personal needs. Using the client data and information you have can provide you this insight and deliver a unique service experience.
- Product & Service Development: Client experience is beyond the service you provide – it is making sure you are innovative in the way you offer that service. Marketers and partners need to work together to enhance this service delivery and find new ways to bring value to clients.
According to Mitch, we consume products and we experience services. Marketers need to constantly be exploring and researching what clients need to develop an experience that will make your firm stand out amongst the competition. Delivering an experience that can increase client loyalty and firm growth will transform your firm.