Five Helpful Customer Service Tips for Accountants

Posted 5 years ago in Accountant Insights
by Tim Chaves

A majority of small businesses (86%) consider their accountant a trusted business advisor. But that doesn’t always mean that these clients will be with you for life.

In fact, a CCH Accounting Firm client survey shows that over half of all businesses have been approached by other accounting firms, while 20% of individual clients have been approached. The news gets even worse: from that same study, 36% of business clients and 19% of individual clients report they are likely to switch CPA firms in the next year. 

It’s a tough market to grow in if your customers aren’t completely loyal to your accounting firm. Fortunately, providing stellar customer service is a surefire way to grow your customer loyalty. Customer satisfaction, specifically with the service they receive, is directly correlated to higher loyalty.

Great customer service can help you keep your clients’ trust and prevent them from leaving your firm. In this article, we share five customer service tips for accountants that will ensure your customers have a great experience.

1. Be responsive

Do you ever notice we rarely use the abbreviation “brb” or “be right back” anymore? That’s because most of us are constantly connected to our communication streams—whether it’s email or SMS. We never have to say when we’ll be back because we are always online. 

Clients have higher expectations than ever when it comes to getting a response from businesses—and accountants are no different. Responding to emails in less than one hour will meet the expectations of 89% of your clients. If you aren’t able to consistently respond that quickly, you might consider hiring an assistant to help you clear your inbox, or put on an autoresponder to let people know when to expect a response from you. 

2. Modernize your workflow

There are so many great tools for bookkeepers and accountants available. Not only do they make your life easier, but they also make your client’s life easier. People like working with businesses that make things easy for them. In fact, Gartner reports that 94% of people who have low effort experiences are likely to return, but only 6% of people with high effort experiences will do business with you again. 

If you’re not already, considering using the following tools: 

  • Help Desk: A help desk is a system that organizes your conversations and prevents communication details from falling through the cracks. This is especially helpful if you have multiple people working with the same client and need to view past conversations. Some popular Help Desk tools include Zendesk and Salesforce. 
  • Secure Document Signing: Electronic signatures are legally binding and fully enforceable. By using a tool like DocuSign to securely send client documents, your clients can avoid the whole print, sign, scan song-and-dance. Collect signatures quickly and keep your work rolling right along. 
  • Digital Accounting Systems: Accountancy Age says that “by storing your clients’ accounts in a cloud-based system, your clients can work with you online, from any device. This is invaluable for giving them, and you, a real-time view of their financial situation, allowing you to offer the most relevant and up-to-date advice.” 

3. Set expectations and meet them

Live by the rule: underpromise and overdeliver. It’s tempting to make big promises to clients. They’re always happy when they hear them, and it’s easy to win new business when you promise the world. But fast forward to when you need to deliver on your promises, and you might not be able to. 

Even if you do a great job, customers will be unhappy when their expectations are unmet. You are better off setting realistic expectations and then meeting or exceeding them. Sarah Chambers, customer service consultant explains why

“In a study where participants were promised concert tickets, then given worse, equal or better seats than they were promised, participants were no happier or more likely to recommend the company when given better seats. They were much more upset when they were given worse seats.”

Be clear with your clients on what they can expect from you (on deadlines, services and response rates in particular) and then make every effort to meet those expectations.  

4. Apologize, effectively, when necessary

Mistakes happen. Clients don’t expect perfection, but they do expect you to own up when something does go wrong. Whether it’s a missed deadline, a calculation error or a lost email – take ownership of your errors and apologize. 

But not all apologies are created equally. In order to repair the relationship, your apology should be genuine and specific. And you need to fix the mistake that you made. Consider following these steps for an effective client apology:

  1. Empathize: understand how your mistake impacted your client and say it. “I understand how important this document is for your business”
  2. Say sorry: actually say that you are sorry for what happened. Don’t beat around the bush. “I’m sorry we were a day late on this deadline”
  3. Offer an explanation: if the situation requires it, explain what went wrong. Don’t make excuses. “We had been changing over our email provider and lost a few emails in the process”
  4. Fix the problem: make the change that will make your customer happy. “I’ve made the necessary changes to the report.”
  5. Learn from your mistakes: are there any systemic changes you need to make to prevent this issue from happening again? “We’ve just hired an assistant to help us stay on top of our incoming emails.” 

Finally, wrap it up by repeating how sorry you are and let them know that you’re available to help or answer any questions. 

5. Listen to your clients

People will tell you what they want…if you’re listening. Asking for and acting on customer feedback is the best way to know that you’re offering a great experience. While feedback can come in all sorts of forms (from online reviews to angrily worded emails), taking the time to actively seek out insights will get you the best results. Here are some ideas on how to be a great listener: 

  • Get face to face time with your VIP customers frequently to talk about how their business is going. Ask what their vision for the next five years is. Be active in asking for feedback. 
  • Send out a yearly client survey after tax season has settled asking how the process went this year. Ask clients what could make life easier for them. 
  • Check-in with clients who decide to move their business elsewhere. Don’t try to win them back, but ask what the biggest deciding factor was for them. 

When clients provide feedback, make sure to take action as quickly as possible. If clients provide negative feedback on a survey, make sure to follow up with them. If you aren’t responding to client feedback, not only will they probably stop giving you any, they might also stop giving you their business as well. 

Delivering great customer service isn’t just about answering the phone with a smile. It’s about setting up your workflow in a way that makes your customer’s experience consistently great. By using modern tools, responding to your customer’s needs and apologizing when something does go wrong, you can keep your clients happy—even in the middle of tax season. 

About Tim

Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.

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