The Next Frontier of CPA Firm Differentiation? Exceptional Client Service

CPA firms once positioned themselves as local, talented providers of accounting services. Marketing then evolved to emphasize specialized expertise in specific industries. What’s next? Two accounting marketing leaders from IPA 100 firms contend the next competitive battleground is exceptional client service.

Mitch Reno

Mitch Reno

Mitch Reno, principal and director of client experience at Saginaw, Mich.-based Rehmann (FY15 net revenue of $116 million), and Leisa Gill, client experience leader at Brentwood, Tenn.-based LBMC (FY16 net revenue of $84.4 million), presented a webinar on the topic Sept. 14 for the Association for Accounting Marketing.

Consistently delivering memorable client experiences, Reno and Gill say, is how tomorrow’s top firms will be retaining clients, growing practices and increasing market share. Now is the time, they say, for marketers to become directly involved in client service. Marketers can take the lead in gathering information from clients and using it to develop a customized plan that ensures clients get consistently exceptional service with every interaction, at every step along the way.

Consider this quote from the CMO of Deloitte, Diane O’Brien: “Marketing has transformed, and the entire organization now needs to be empowered to share the client experience.” (Direct Marketing News)

Leisa Gill

Leisa Gill

Marketers are working hard to build their firms’ brands, but in the financial services industry, the alignment between brand promise and delivery on that promise is low – at a “shocking” 40%, Gill says, citing a recent Gallup poll. The airline, retail and hospitality industries, by contrast, show a strong alignment, and accounting marketers should look outside their own profession to learn about their successful customer service models.

Exceptional service can retain clients, build loyalty and result in larger profits. Reno points out that it costs six to seven times as much to acquire a new client as it does to keep an existing one. In addition, profits can increase from 5% to 95% from boosting customer retention rates by 5%, surveys show.

Reno and Gill shared what one CPA firm partner said about client experience. “Consistency is important. Client needs are paramount. Making it easier for them to do business with you is required.” And a client said, “They have great people who are passionate about serving us, and it shows in everything they do.” Note that the client didn’t say, “They produce great tax returns.” Some experts say that only half the reason clients remain loyal is due to technical expertise; the remainder relates to their experiences with the firm.

Gathering meaningful feedback from clients is key. Reno says he’s conducted many dozens of client interviews, and the information has changed his approach to his work and is persuasive with firm leaders. “Their words are far more powerful than anything I could personally say. There’s no question.”

Firms are beginning to use client information to develop a client experience service model, firmwide standards and training. In the end, superior client service can become embedded in the firm culture.

Gill notes that these programs are not only about the client retention and expansion, it’s also about employee retention. Customer experience training can develop professionals and get them excited about being part of the culture.