Surface or deep? That’s the question to ask yourself, and teach your staff to ask, regarding your client relationships. If the answer is that your relationships are more surface, transactional and focused only on the due dates and the client’s current needs, then you are risking fee pressure where your clients may see your offering as a commodity and don’t feel personal loyalty to you or the firm. Further, clients need to feel a sense of rapport, respect and trust to share their deepest financial fears, hopes and dreams with you so that you can make a bigger difference in their businesses and lives.
Client retention starts with really knowing your clients. The process of getting to know them actually begins before they engage your firm. Prepare in advance of the initial consultation meeting by making use of the Research Tactics Checklist provided in the PCPS Trusted Business Advisor 2.0 Toolbox that provides suggestions on how you can prepare yourself for the initial meeting and knowledgably discuss the client’s business and industry. This tool offers suggestions such as visiting the client’s website and social media outlets, researching their specific industry and identifying similar clients that you have served. These tactics are valuable to use with existing clients as well. When working with existing clients, it is easy to fall into a routine and lose touch with their long-term goals and objectives or even with new developments in their industry or business. Consider arranging a meeting with key existing clients and approach it as if it were the very first initial meeting.
As you first get to know your prospects in the initial meeting, demonstrate that you are interested in them as people and care about their success. You can deepen rapport and build relatedness and trust with your clients by continuously:
- Asking questions
- Listening and showing a genuine interest to client responses
- Eliminating distractions
- Resisting the temptation to multitask
- Probing deeper into specific responses where you need additional clarification or believe you could provide specific assistance
- Looking for areas of common interest
- Identifying clear goals or objectives for each engagement
- Remembering what you learn by capturing responses in your practice management solution or contact management system and sharing it with your team and incorporating it into service plans and future interactions
Rapport is established by asking the right questions. This can sometimes be uncomfortable because you may be unsure about where to start or you may want to get down to business and skip this critical aspect of relationship building. However, to build personal relatedness and learn about your clients on a personal level, these conversations are critical and will help you “break the ice” in future discussions or meetings. You’ll have a way to get instantly related to your client. For instance, clients may appreciate it when you remember and ask about their favorite sports teams, the ages or major milestones of their children, special hobbies, vacation plans or other major life events or activities. They will also be impressed that you remembered, you’re interested, and you cared to ask about those things the next time you speak with them.
Continue building rapport by asking questions that demonstrate your interest in your clients’ professional lives and in turn identify further service opportunities from the discussion. Some possible questions include:
- What are your current business challenges and opportunities?
- How are things going in your business these days? Are you on track with your strategic plan?
- What changes are there in your team? How are you managing and developing your personnel?
- What concerns you most at work today/what keeps you awake at night?
- What critical decisions are you facing?
- What market opportunities are you facing at present? And what plans do you have to capitalize on them?
- Do you have sufficient cash to achieve your growth goals?
- What more can we do for you?
Discussions generated from these questions will provide the opportunity to explore new territory with your clients without appearing to purely sell your services. You are simply identifying their needs and appropriately matching your service offerings since often clients aren’t aware of the additional services you can provide.
Share these questions with your team members and add other questions to the list that fit your clients, especially service-specific questions. Teach your team members to ask these questions and respond to the answers by role-playing, which may seem silly or too basic but can be a great tool to develop confidence in team members, ensure consistent positioning of your firm, and generate new ideas to share with your clients. For some team members, it is easier to engage clients in a conversation and ask these types of questions, so allow these team members to demonstrate how they do it and encourage other team members to find their own style and still accomplish the goal of building rapport with the clients they serve. In addition, consider having team members “shadow” you and others by participating in prospect and client meetings so that they can observe these rapport-building conversations in real life. Also consider leveraging the Client Goals & Challenges Worksheet in the PCPS Trusted Business Advisor 2.0 Toolbox to help uncover potential ways you and your staff can help your clients address opportunities and challenges in the future, which adds real value to clients’ businesses and helps position you as a trusted advisor versus a reporter on the past.
Other ideas to build and maintain rapport include:
- Understanding the “contact web” around your client – learning and remembering the names and roles of the people they work with if you’re introduced, including colleagues, their attorney, banker and others you may encounter in the course of your work with them.
- Remembering their birthday, anniversary or other special occasions with an email or social media post.
- Sending relevant articles or other informational tid bits regarding your client’s special interests.
- Establishing a Google Alert to tag your client’s name and/or their organization’s name and paying attention to news feeds you receive, acknowledging those when it makes sense.
- Writing a thank you email or handwritten note expressing gratitude for their business.
In accounting, trust is foundational to great client relationships and trust is a by-product of consistent, credible and caring communications. If you show real interest in your clients, they will show you great loyalty. It is this rapport that strengthens and maintains client relationships and translates to success for you and your practice.