In trying to distinguish themselves from the competition, accountancy firms often promise ‘added value’ somewhere in their sales approach. But is the client’s perception of added value the same as the accountancy firms?
A common misconception is that ‘added value’ is just about doing a good job. Clients suggest otherwise, saying they expect to receive an excellent service no matter what.
They also say that added value is not necessarily about doing something for free. From our work with accountancy firms and their clients over the years, added value is about doing something over and above the client’s expectations.
Added value from a client’s perspective is individual and personal. This means that accountancy firms seeking generic ‘solutions’ that add value to a mass of clients usually miss the mark. We have, however, seen adding value initiatives contribute positively to firms’ performances. This effort can protect valuable client relationships in the long-term and is not detrimental to a firm’s profitability and utilisation.
Added value and client loyalty can be built through three key steps. Firstly firms must understand what added value would mean to each key contact within each client, secondly firms need to find time to plan and deliver this added value and the final task is to measure, demonstrate and remind their clients of this added value regularly.
By identifying clusters of similar needs across the portfolio, they are able to make a number of service changes, which essentially tailor their approach to different groups of clients. For example, one firm we came across changed its methods, frequency and content of communications (from practice areas, marketing, accounts etc) so that they better reflected client preferences. Over time, this approach prevents accountancy firms wasting time and energy on aspects not valued by clients.
The successful firms identified the individuals among their clients who were critical with regard to the way they (the accountancy firm) were seen within that client organisation. These people were key to the winning of on-going work.
The firms then sought to understand what added value looked like in the minds of key client contacts. This came through a number of different interactions such as client research, feedback after each project and in-depth dialogue with these key people. Client service review meetings were used too, as they gave the potential to review the whole of the relationship between the firm and the client.
Sometimes the factors that clients consider ‘added value’ are somewhat intangible, but by investing time to respond to and develop these elements, accountancy firms can help the client be successful. Over time (and without demanding anything in return) that firm’s key client contacts will soon become its advocates.
Some accountancy firms fall into the trap of viewing ‘added value’ as a marketing term, sending newsletters, brochures and email updates to all contacts on a database.
However, clients do not necessarily see more information as added value. Any irrelevant information sent to a client can damage the client relationship. The client may deduce that their advisers don’t understand or care about them. They may then start being receptive to advances from competitors who do demonstrate an understanding.
In a nutshell
Added value is individual and personal and needs to be explored and understood if it is to be delivered. Here’s what some clients have told us they want from their accountants. They want them to:
- Know and really understand their industry and where the business fits into this.
- Make an effort to really know the people in the client team.
- Understand the demands made by that contact’s internal clients.
- Spend time with them even when there is not fee-earning work to carry out or supervise.
- Provide them with information that helps them to carry out their role more easily and more effectively.
- Help the contact develop their own capabilities and the capabilities of their team, so that they can personally become more effective over time.
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