When people have significant financial changes in their life, that’s often when they realize it’s time for a better accounting firm. Whether a prospective client found you online or you were referred by a trusted friend or colleague, the least you can do is get back to them promptly. If you don’t, another firm across town that always answers its phones will probably get the business.
It reminds me of my recent experience with Tesla. I love cutting-edge technology. I’ve been a longtime Tesla owner, and now it’s time to get a new electric car. As many know, Tesla doesn’t have dealerships or showrooms. But I knew exactly the model and color I wanted, so I called the toll-free sales number to place an order. Not so easy this time around.
Both times I called — during regular business hours — I couldn’t get past the basic voicemail menu. Even worse, the company’s voicemail box was full, so I couldn’t even leave a message, much less place an order. You’d expect this from the local locksmith or lawn service, but not from one of the world’s most sophisticated technology companies. They may have world-class engineering, but I’ll find another place to spend my money if they can’t figure out how to clean out their voicemail.
The landscape is changing
When you’re the only game in town — and everybody wants you — I guess you can get away with this kind of customer hubris. But if you’re in the market for an electric car these days, you have plenty of other options. In most cases, you can visit a showroom and speak with someone in person — who will usually accompany you on a test drive and patiently answer your questions. The same goes for professional services firms — more on that in a minute.
Sure, Tesla has the fastest and longest-range electric cars most consumers can buy. They were first to market, and they’ve been doing it longer and better than anyone else. Many believe Tesla’s vehicles “sell themselves.” But if you make it too hard for customers to place an order with you when they’re ready to buy, they’ll shift to Plan B.
If I called your firm today, what would my experience be like?
The same goes for accounting firms. If someone is referred to your firm and ready to move forward, can you afford to leave them in voicemail limbo for three days? Can you afford to leave their “info@” email inquiry unanswered for a week?
Remember, a prospective client can simply Google ”CPA firms,” and they’ll find a dozen firms with five-star options nearby. You may have been referred by someone they trust. But a referral only goes so far. If the firm across town returns their message while you’re “too busy” to get to your voicemail box, guess who’s going to get the client? For more about online reviews, see my recent article “Boost your firm’s Google reviews.”
Bottom line: You need to have a reliable human answering your phone during regular business hours. If you can’t find one or don’t feel like you can afford one full time, you can hire an outsourced solution like Ruby Receptionists or any other answering service.
Whether handling your phones by a staff person or an outsourced receptionist, that person should be trained well enough to know the next step. After gathering information about the client’s issues and contact information, the receptionist should be able to schedule the next call or meeting with that prospect and know which professional at your firm is best equipped to help them. If you can’t make the onboarding process more straightforward, they’ll find another firm that can.
I know what you’re thinking: “I’m already overloaded with client obligations and referrals. I don’t have time to respond to new inquiries in real-time.” That may be the case, but ignoring messages from prospective clients will not reflect well on your reputation. And word gets around in this online age.
“When you reduce friction and make something easy, people do more of it,” Amazon chair Jeff Bezos once said.
That’s why Amazon Prime is so popular. You tap a button, and your purchase is made. Amazon already has your credit card, shipping information and purchasing preferences on file. You may find a lower-cost option for the same product, but if you have to spend time filling in all of your information (payment, shipping, etc.) when you’re ready to order, you’ll probably go back to Prime because it’s so much easier and more convenient. There’s no friction!
Tesla makes fantastic cars, so most customers don’t mind the high price. But if the company doesn’t improve its customer service, they’re not going to win the electric car game in the long run. As with their CPA firms, customers want a relationship with someone who’s reliable, trustworthy and caring.
Whether you’re the local dry cleaner, a high-end car company or a CPA firm, if someone sees how difficult it is just to become a customer or client, they’re probably thinking: “What will it be like when I’m a paying client and I have a problem or an urgent request. I’ll bet it’s even worse. I’ll pass.”
What’s your take on client service throughout the year? I’d love to hear from you.