Courting Clients

You may think your clients are faithful to your firm, but rivals are probably making advances on them. John Monks tells how to put the ‘love’ back into your client relationships.man-roses-main

It sounds obvious, but getting the basics right is one of the key priorities for successful client management. But you would be surprised just how many advisers seem to mess up on basic service elements. In some of these cases, the firm involved actually hasn’t done anything wrong, but has assumed what it thinks the client wants, rather than asking the client at the outset.

Meeting client expectations depends on accountants understanding, establishing and agreeing those expectations at every stage of the relationship. Whilst fee-earners often make a good job at agreeing the ‘technical deliverables’ of an assignment, frustration on both sides is sometimes caused by a failure to agree the ‘soft stuff’. This invariably includes how the two sides are going to work together. Having established and agreed the client’s expectations, you are in a much stronger position to plan and execute work so that it meets or exceeds these expectations.

Ask yourself how strong your relationships with a particular client are. If your key contact left the organisation tomorrow, would you still retain its business a year from now?

Firms should analyse the strength of the relationships with their clients and identify any weaknesses or gaps, which a competitor could exploit. These gaps could include not knowing or having relationships with enough of the key decision-makers. From this analysis firms can formulate and execute plans to address these gaps and build even stronger client relationships.

Many firms believe their clients pigeonhole them to provide a particular range of expertise. We are not suggesting you try to flog a range of services just to get a bigger share of the client’s wallet. If this is the key motive, it will soon become apparent in your actions and the client will resist all advances.

Instead, focus on developing the client’s business. Firms that are successful in this respect use all their knowledge of the client to establish tailored solutions that draw on a wide range of capabilities from within their own firm. The aim is to provide even greater support and additional value to the client and help them achieve their business objectives. Targeting clients with activities and correspondence that relate to their specific interests and issues can help.

While a client manager can plan to deliver excellent client management, enthusiasm alone is not enough to build an impenetrable relationship. A client may deal with a whole variety of individuals within our firm, so it needs to ensure that all people involved with clients are equally as passionate and motivated. The firm should ensure that everyone consistently adheres to the firm’s best practice approach to client service delivery. This will have been communicated regularly throughout the firm and the staff trained accordingly to deliver what it advocates.

None of this can be achieved unless client management is taken very seriously and this motivation needs to be driven from the top. Firms that enjoy exceptional loyalty from their clients tend to have real buy-in and understanding of the importance of client management from both fee-earners and support staff.

Clients will always be approached by competitors, but if clients believe their adviser gives them good value, they will remain faithful. Just like any business activity, achieving this requires careful planning. But the rewards for doing so are immense – low client turnover, increased fees, client referrals/recommendations and prompt payment of fees. In planning the protection of clients, firms should not just focus on managing their fee-earning work. There are more facets to the relationship than this and individual client plans should reflect these.

How to keep the love alive in your client relationships:

  • Manage your fee-earning work so that it meets your clients’ expectations. Ask the client what they want, agree what is feasible and put plans in place that deliver the promise.
  • Defend your client relationship and build more key contacts in the client organisation. Uncover the needs of different key decision-makers and design a plan to satisfy them.
  • Develop your client relationship and don’t let clients pigeonhole you for offering a narrow range of expertise. Aim to bring greater benefits and added value to the client’s business.
  • Project manage your client relationships to develop the right culture in your firm so that client management is consistently delivered.

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