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Five Ways to Lose Your Best Clients

Maintain your clients

There are 29 million private businesses in this country, and every one of them needs their CPA like never before. Today’s complexities and post-recession external forces have made even the simplest business decisions difficult. As practicing CPAs, we face the very difficult dilemma of getting all the calendar year financial statements and tax returns out in a timely manner or seizing the time to capitalize on the opportunity to get deeper with clients and provide the value they seek from us. We all know what we should be doing, but the pressures of the busy season always seem to override them.

For decades practice management surveys consistently revealed that the main reason clients leave their CPA is a perceived indifference on the part of the CPA/CPA firm. CPAs care passionately about their clients. So what is it that we do to give our clients the feeling that we don’t?

Here is my list of the five ways that CPAs’ actions during busy season unintentionally convey indifference or not caring – even to your best clients.
  1. Losing sight of the 80/20 rule. Generally 80 percent of a firm’s income comes from 20 percent of its clients (and most often the firm’s highest quality clients). Said another way, 80 percent of a CPA’s time generates only 20 percent of the firm’s income – thus making the case for reexamining your client list, firm size and personal time priorities. Quality of clients versus quantity of clients.
  2. Lack of initiating personal contact.  This shows up to clients in many ways. Many CPAs get into the trap of merely mailing clients year-end financial statements without an in-person review of the year-end results, looking at what trends the numbers indicate and a solid discussion of what is keeping the client awake at night. How many times have you heard a prospective client say, “I only hear from my CPA once a year.” So many of us let the due date list drive client contact rather than initiating it regularly and just “checking in” throughout the year.
  3. Focusing on the work and not on the client. Busy season is when client intimacy is at its highest. A client’s entire financial picture unfolds before us with their tax return data – from their business through to their personal finances. As CPAs, we have a sixth sense when it comes to spotting a client planning opportunity, a need or an issue. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling oneself, “I will revisit that after the busy season when the work is done,” only to lose track of what it was and even recalling which client it was.
  4. Inaccessibility. This is not just about screening client calls, being slow to return calls or emails left unanswered. It’s very much about the staff that is getting the work done, has burning questions and needs help with key decisions to finish the work. Clients see this as their financial statements, tax returns and year-end adjustments taking far too long to complete. Clients are truly impressed by rapid turnaround, and it reinforces their importance to the firm.
  5. Slow billing. Who would ever think clients are in a hurry to pay our bills? It’s true that many are not coming out of the recession, but very late billing sends the message that the firm really doesn’t need the money, thus the client’s business. No one wants to be thought of as a small fish in a big pond. Clients may not pay right away. However, they want to know what they owe to prevent ugly surprises far after the work has been done when the bill does arrive.

At the end of day, it’s about culture and leadership. The firm’s staff will emulate the client service habits of its leaders. What behaviors is your staff emulating?  

James C. Metzler, CPA, Vice President – Small Firm Interests, American Institute of CPAs.

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