As a Miami accountant the idea I had to “Delight” or “Wow” clients become so entrenched I never questioned it.
As a Miami accountant the idea I had to “Delight” or “Wow” clients become so entrenched I never questioned it. Until this year when my wife, and business partner, brought me back down to earth and taught me a big lesson.
Having been a Miami accountant (CPA) for more than 30 years, the idea I had to “Delight” or “Wow” clients become so entrenched I never stopped to think about it from the clients side. Having been a Senior Audit Manager for CPA, the Director of Finance for Telefonica of Spain and Chief Financial Officer for Hewlett Packard (HP) Latin America I was trained to think, act and present financial data at a level so sophisticated you rarely found that culture outside the Fortune 500 Companies.
Earlier this tax season, my wife decided to offer clients a very simple service for a nominal fee (renew their Annual Report with the Florida Secretary of State). I cringed at the thought of offering a service I felt was beneath us, after all, I am a Miami accountant and I am not in the business of renewing a license. To my surprise the service offering was a huge success and clients were thrilled. I scratched my head and asked, “Why are they so thrilled about something so simple and yet their eyes gloss over when I start discussing KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators”? Most clients saw no value in KPI’s, which the Fortune 500 companies live and die by. I congratulated my wife on her hugely successful idea and asked her opinion on why she thought it was such a big hit. In her usual calm manner and warm smile (these are the times I know I’m going to get schooled) she turned and asked me, “How many Fortune 500 clients do we have ”?
It hit me like a ton of bricks and asked myself, how often have I patronized a client by specifically offering over-the-top services? You can probably think of a few examples your own accountant may be guilty of. But you probably can’t come up with many services a Miami accountant has offered that “Takes a simple problem off your already overloaded “To Do List”.
Now ask yourself: How often do clients cut their accountants loose because of terrible service or the wrong type of service? All the time. As a Miami accountant I clients have scorned me for allowing there corporation to become inactive by not renewing there Annual Report (same service my wife in acted this year). I would send out monthly reminders for 5 months straight, but most went unread and the corporation inactive after the due date. I’m an accountant, not an administrative assistant that renews business licenses. This year’s lesson learned was to ask clients “how can I help you”. Do not assume you know the answers.
Obstacles All Too Common for a Miami Accountant
Most clients encounter loyalty-eroding problems when they engage with a non-partner in the office.
- 56% report having to re-explain an issue
- 57% report having to switch from the web to the phone
- 59% report expending moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
- 59% report being transferred
- 62% report having to repeatedly contact the company to resolve an issue
Clients impulse to punish bad service—at least more readily than to reward delightful service—plays out dramatically in both phone-based and self-service interactions, which has become the norm with Miami Accountants. In those settings, research shows, loyalty has a lot more to do with how well Accountants deliver on their basic, even plain-vanilla promises than on how dazzling the service experience might be. Yet most Miami Accountants have failed to realize this and pay dearly in terms of wasted investments and lost customers.
The Bad-Service Ripple Effect
Service failures not only drive existing clients to defect—they also can repel prospective ones. Research shows:
- 25% of clients are likely to say something positive about their customer service experience
- 65% are likely to speak negatively
- 23% of clients who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it
- 48% of clients who had negative experiences told 10 or more others
To examine the links between customer service and loyalty, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants conducted a study of more than 75,000 clients who had interacted over the phone with contact-center representatives or through self-service channels such as the web, voice prompts, chat, and e-mail. They also held hundreds of structured interviews with customer service leaders and their functional counterparts in larger accounting firms throughout the world. Research addressed three questions:
- How important is customer service to loyalty?
- Which customer service activities increase loyalty, and which don’t?
- Can accounting firms increase loyalty without raising their customer service operating costs?
About the Research on Accounting Firms
“Loyalty” as interpreted by clients, is the intention to continue doing business with an accounting firm, increase their spending, or say good things about it (or refrain from saying bad things). During a three-year period, they surveyed more than 75,000 clients about their recent service interactions in major non-face-to-face channels, including live phone calls, voice prompts, web, chat, and e-mail. They isolated the elements of each interaction that drove customer loyalty, both positively and negatively, and controlled for variables including the type of service issue, whether it was handled by an in-house or an outside contact center, the rep’s tenure with the accounting firm, the accounting firms size, the clients personality type, the clients mood prior to the interaction, switching costs, the frequency with which clients were seen, the perceived product quality and value, fees, the industry, and the specific firm. Finally, they conducted several hundred structured interviews in order to understand accounting firms customer service strategies and operations in detail.
Although research focused exclusively on contact-center interactions, it makes intuitive sense that the findings apply to face-to-face encounters as well.
Two critical findings emerged that should affect every Miami Accountant customer service strategy. First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does. Second, acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.