Saturday, September 5, 2009

Keys To Retaining Clients – Part 2

Retaining a good client is much, much easier than finding a new one. They key to retention is charging reasonable fees, doing the work well and on time and maintaining an appropriate level of communication. The first two of those are straightforward; the third is the challenge because you are so busy. How and when can you make the time? What follows is a continuation of a list of tactics I’ve collected over the years.

— Lunch. You eat lunch every day, right? Why not occasionally invite an “A” level client to join you? Lunching with clients is the cornerstone of the practice building process used by an accountant I believe is one of the best, if not THE best, business development practitioners I’ve ever met. I explained his method in much more detail in my blog post of June 22nd titled “Learning From The Best.” You can also quickly find that post at

— Events. Is your client a baseball fan? Music? Theater? Charitable functions? Invite the client to join you at a suitable event. You’ll enjoy the event and have an opportunity to bond more closely with the client.

— Tax time. When appropriate, schedule a face-to-face meeting and go over relevant details. This meeting can morph into a mini-planning meeting or even future additive work. In any event, you will be interacting with the client, refreshing the relationship and once again getting paid for it.

— Personal notes. When you mail, say, a filing to the client for signature, also put a 3M “stickie” on the top with a short, hand written personal comment. The presence of your signature on the formal transmittal letter is not a “warm” communication. In contrast, the stickie is very personal. You might write, for example, “Notice the gross margin is improving. Good news for the bottom line,” or “We have some tickets for next month. Interested in a Giant’s game,” or “Your bank line is topping out. We should talk to them while your numbers are so good,” or “Let’s schedule a lunch. Call me.” You can’t do this every time, of course, but a couple of times a year is good.

— Have a system in place so when clients contact you someone will always get back to them quickly. What gets clients really cross-ways with professional service providers is when they get NO response, nor is there anything on the VM explaining why you aren’t being responsive, e.g. “I’ll be in Europe on vacation beginning August 3rd and back in the office September 7th. While I’m gone you can contact Jane at etc. etc.” Some accountants have a client email list and they send out a blast notice informing them of any prolonged absences from the office. You can always use call forwarding. Calls can be sent to you at another number, a staff person’s number, etc.

How many times should you be in communication with an “A” level client over the course of a year? Experience suggests a safe answer is four. So, if you, for example, meet briefly with the client in April to cover the major points in their tax return, send them a stickie three months later, have lunch three months after that and then meet for a planning session in January, you won’t have that client leave you because they didn’t feel they were getting enough attention or that you didn’t appear to value their business.

The final point is that when you are routinely engaging in qualify communication with a client the relationship is strengthened. This will naturally lead to more referrals and other good things, but it also has the effect of creating a stronger resilience should something become a problem. If there is a filing problem, an AR issue, an error in preparation, etc., resolution of the problem will be easier because the two of you are comfortable and familiar with one another. Considerable good will have been created, and this will be very helpful as you both reach for a mutually agreeable solution.

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