Dec 06, 2021

Client Feedback: A Precious Resource for Enhancing Success

Carrie SteffenBy Carrie Steffen

CPA firms of all shapes and sizes are taking a long look at their client service process. It’s no wonder: client service is the differentiator among CPA firms and is the linchpin to client loyalty, and client feedback is invaluable for gauging a firm’s efforts.

Firms that take time to formalize a process of gathering client feedback, evaluating consistencies, and making purposeful choices about what to incorporate are better able to empower their team members to provide a meaningful experience. Firms with no formalized way to evaluate what is important generally suffer – or more accurately, their people suffer – from the pressure of making every complaint, exception, or suggestion equal. CPAs are eager to please clients and avoid conflict, but your people may kill themselves trying to address every issue raised – causing redundancies, inefficiencies, and eventual burnout.

Client feedback not only improves the lifetime value of your client base by increasing client retention levels, it also significantly impacts your ability to grow the top-line because you aren’t constantly replacing the revenue from clients leaving the firm. Plus, satisfied clients will refer business to you and serve as a reference if you ask, making it easier to attract new relationships as well.

Client providing feedback to her CPA online from home.CPA firms often rely on revenue numbers, realization, and chargeable hours to determine how business is going. But by giving your clients a voice, you’ll learn what you can do better, how to sustain high performance without overburdening your people with unrealistic expectations, and how you can more effectively grow your firm’s top line. In courses on growth, a frequently asked question is, “Does your firm have a formalized process to gather feedback from clients?” Too often, the answer is no. Firms are missing the boat when it comes to listening to what clients want and adapting their firm to the market.

Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

Satisfaction and loyalty are related, but they are not the same. Satisfaction is often tied to a project or engagement. Loyalty is tied to the relationship. You can’t have loyalty without first having satisfaction. However, loyalty that has been established can help insulate the relationship from brief periods of dissatisfaction. If I’m a loyal client, I’ll allow you the opportunity to fix a satisfaction issue; I may even become more loyal if the issue is resolved quickly and to my liking. If, however, I’m merely satisfied, and then become dissatisfied, I’m more likely to look for an alternative provider during a difficult period because there is nothing tethering me to the firm.

Ask yourself, “What are the proactive measures we are taking as a firm to measure and improve client loyalty?” If you answer “Not much” or “I’m not sure,” you may want to consider starting at the beginning. You need to understand what your clients value in a relationship and whether or not you’re delivering in those key areas.

To Know What Clients Value, Ask

Coordinated efforts to improve client service can yield some of the greatest returns on investment of any growth activity. To be most effective, any effort related to improving client service should germinate from feedback from your best clients. Often when firms measure satisfaction, they focus on engagement satisfaction:

  • How satisfied were they with the outcome?
  • How did they enjoy the experience of working with your team?
  • What could you do differently?
  • How would they rate the deliverables?

While important, these surveys don’t adequately measure satisfaction with the relationship – which is what drives loyalty.

Consider a formal program to regularly learn the following from your clients:

  • What attributes do they associate with your firm?
  • What attributes are most important to them in hiring a CPA?
  • How satisfied are they with your firm’s delivery of the attributes that are most important?

Don’t allow evaluating feedback to be an ad hoc endeavor. Make strategic choices about what feedback is material and what isn’t, and then create systems, processes, training, and tools that will enable your team to deliver. Also, make sure that when you receive positive feedback about one of your team members you share it with the rest of the firm. (Create a culture of kudos!) Positive feedback goes a long way in creating goodwill. In doing these things, clients will begin to see and feel the difference between your firm and others in the market.

Carrie Steffen is cofounder and president at The Whetstone Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which has facilitated hundreds of partner retreats and visioning sessions for CPA firms. She can be reached at carrie@thewhetstonegroup.com.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.