Don't hold back your growth with a bad first impression.
As a CPA, EA or other tax accounting professional, one of the most important things for you to understand is that marketing is not the end of the story ― in many ways, it is only the beginning. You could run an incredibly successful marketing campaign, generating hundreds upon hundreds of referrals, but if you don’t take the time to onboard them properly, it will ultimately be for nothing. Though it may come as a surprise, we’ve actually found that many CPAs, EAs and other tax professionals do NOT have an established onboard process to speak of. The majority of their new clients come from referrals (as is often the case), be it from word-of-mouth or from online reviews. But simply generating a new lead doesn’t equal success. How you begin to establish those mission-critical client relationships is almost more important than the leads themselves in many ways.
Not being able to return phone calls in a timely way, or not being available in general, takes a potential new (and PAYING) client and turns them into the dreaded “1-Star Review” in an instant. Because of this, setting up a client onboarding process ahead of time makes the process easier for all parties ― from your staff to your clients to, ultimately, yourself.
There are a few key tips in particular that you NEED to be aware of about tax and accounting client onboarding moving forward.
Your Voicemail Box Should NEVER Be Full
While this may seem like an obvious one, it’s actually one of the more common issues facing smaller tax and accounting professionals in particular. When a referral or new web lead calls you and your voicemail box is full, they can’t leave a message. This is only slightly more frustrating than having a client get lost in an automated voice tree to begin with or has a bad experience with your live receptionist.
To combat this, use VoIP or other “smartphone” technologies that are NEVER full and that IMMEDIATELY notify you each time a message comes through.
Respond to All Referrals Within 15 Minutes Whenever Possible
Fifteen minutes is all it really takes for a referral to make additional phone calls to another accountant, CPA or enrolled agent. Rest assured; if you don’t pick up the phone, somebody else is going to. Not only does responding to all referrals within 15 minutes help prevent this from happening, but it also gives you a chance to instantly establish yourself as someone who cares about their clients above all else. Fifteen minutes might even be too late if you study the response time research by Dr. James, whose data shows you need to respond within 5 minutes to drive the best conversion rates.
Lead With the Prospect, Not Yourself
If you want to establish yourself as a client-focused accounting professional, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to act like it. When you start a conversation with a prospect, don’t talk about you or the services you offer ― ask about them. Instantly start learning more about what they’re looking for, what they need and how they see the future unfolding.
Leverage the Power of Social Media
We’ve thankfully entered into an age where not every client interaction needs to take place in person or over the phone ― which is good, because there often aren’t enough hours in a day. Connect with your clients on social media and encourage them to reach out to you the same way. Social media is a great, instant and intimate delivery mechanism for everything from the occasional check-in to sharing important information that your clients need to know.
Be Prepared for a Little Hand Holding
Remember that while you may be an accounting expert, the same is very rarely true of your clients. They’ve come to you not just for a service, but for experience. For guidance. Because of this, you need to be prepared to hold your new client’s hand for at least the first three months, if not a little longer. Don’t just provide a service ― explain what you’re doing and why it matters. This will absolutely go a long way toward building long-term trust and credibility across the board.
Clarity Is King
In EVERY interaction with your new clients, you need to be as clear and as concise as you possibly can. Leave no room for interpretation regarding how your client can get into contact with you, for example. Give them EVERYTHING ― from maps and turn-by-turn directions on how to get to your office to social media handles, cellphone numbers and beyond.
Watch That Meeting Space
Another one of the most important tax and accounting client onboarding tips that cannot be overstated enough involves making an effort to guarantee that your meeting space is clean and professional at all times. An old saying tells us that you only get one chance at a first impression, so you’d better go out of your way to make it the best one possible. For many people, a true first impression will be formed in the first few seconds after they step into your office.
If your meeting space is a proverbial disaster area, people are going to start to wonder if they’ve made the right choice. A clean, professional and organized environment goes a long way from preventing this from happening in the first place.
Do NOT Interrupt Client Meetings
As a financial services professional, your time is incredibly valuable ― it’s important for you to remember that the same is true of everyone else, too. Regardless of what important information you’re trying to convey, do NOT interrupt a client’s meeting. It’s pushy and rude, and it is once again a great way to get people to start second guessing themselves.
SHOW your clients that you value their time and productivity as much as your own. It isn’t enough to just tell them.
As you begin the onboarding process, it is also essential to set client expectations from the start. Let them know what you do, what you don’t do, where you see your relationship going and more. Part of success in any business involving clients is being able to answer a person’s question before they have a chance to ask it. Getting everyone on the same page now frees you from the burden of confusion and misunderstanding later.
Summarize, Summarize, Summarize
Every time you have a meeting with your client, summarize it and provide action points for them to refer to later. Not only will this again allow you to position yourself as a customer service-oriented professional, but it will also give them a document to refer to in the event that they have small questions (thus avoiding you a needless phone call in the future).
You Are NEVER Too Busy (Even if You Are)
This is a simple one, but nevertheless important. NEVER, under ANY circumstances, give your new client the appearance that you’re too busy to take their call or handle their issue. Even if this is the case, find the time. Rely on your staff. Move your schedule around. Making someone wait around for the service they’re paying for is a perfect way to get them to start looking for someone who may be a little more available.
Never Underestimate a Thank You Note
After every client interaction, you should absolutely take the time to send them a “Thank You" note ― whether via email or “snail mail.” If you do choose to go with a hard copy, take the additional time to hand-write it ― don’t just type something out, print it and add your signature.
Don’t Forget About Your Newsletter
As a standard part of your onboarding process, you should also take the time to add a new client to your email newsletter list. Doing so has a number of distinct advantages almost immediately. First, it automates certain processes that take a lot of time when performed manually. If there is ever a hot-button industry news item that your clients need to know about, you can send out a newsletter ― you don’t have to contact them all individually.
Secondly, it helps remind people that you’re out there, working hard. When people get a newsletter, you instantly jump to the forefront of their mind right where you belong.
Request Feedback Often
Finally, always take the opportunity to request feedback whenever you can ― particularly from new clients. It doesn’t always have to take the form of requesting a formal review. It can be as simple as just saying “Hey ― how am I doing? Is there anything I could be doing better in your mind?”
One of the best ways to get feedback from satisfied clients is to come right out and ask for it, thus generating the type of word-of-mouth that your business ultimately depends on. If that feedback does come in the form of a review or testimonial for your website, that’s great. Just be prepared to begin the client onboarding process again soon.
Lee Reams II
I am a marketing junkie who has spent the last 20 years developing and executing "best in class" word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. With over 10,000 happy clients I think we are on to something. The explosion in web marketing and social media have redefined the way independent professionals market their practices. Follow my blog to see if you can take some of our actionable ideas to market your own practice.