We asked accounting professionals to share their firms' best tips for improving client experiences that deepen relationships and build trust. Here's what they said.
The quality of your overall client experience helps your firm stand out from the competition, deepens your client bonds, and builds loyalty.
“I’m convinced client experience is the primary and possibly only differentiating factor that separates one accounting firm from another,” explains Michael Ly, CEO of Reconciled. “Clients have many options to choose from when it comes to accounting service providers—it’s the client’s experience with your accounting firm that will keep them from leaving or becoming raving fans.”
But how exactly do you provide great customer service and enhance the client experience?
To answer this question, we spoke to accountants and bookkeepers who are members of the FreshBooks Accounting Partner Program. Here’s what they had to say.
Table of Contents
1. Be Proactive With Communication
“One of the top reasons clients leave their accountants,” says Michael, “is they do not hear from them.”
It’s critical to communicate regularly with clients to:
- Keep them updated
- Manage expectations
- Build customer satisfaction
- Develop trust and loyalty
Ideally, that outreach should be proactive and not reactive.
At Reconciled,” Michael explains, “we use a mix of automation and task reminders to help our team proactively reach out to clients for updates.”
“Even if there isn’t anything major to update the client on, even a simple question of ‘How are you doing?’ elicits positive responses. It brings up new opportunities for us to serve our clients but also creates an emotional connection to our brand and people.”
Chris Hervochon of Better Way CPA agrees: “We proactively reach out to clients via several channels—automated checklist reminders, emails, and phone calls—to make sure we’re getting the information we need and to nudge them to book a meeting with us. We want to talk to our clients! We also send monthly financial review Loom videos that remind them to schedule some time with us.”
2. Use Customer Feedback
To be effective, communication has to go both ways. Listen to feedback from your existing clients and build a feedback loop into your workflow with clients to ensure it’s top of mind.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can send emails at certain intervals to ask a few key questions or get more in-depth with a survey.
Chris and his team at Better Way CPA send clients a monthly checklist at the month-end close. This includes a net promoter score (NPS) that tracks, at a high level, how clients feel about them.
Then, at the beginning of every financial review meeting, they ask the same 3 questions:
- What’s going well in the business?
- What’s not going well in the business?
- How can we be most helpful?
One answer Chris’s team got from a client on that last question was: “I need you to be more direct with your communication when I [the client] am holding you up.”
“I received that feedback this week,” says Chris, “and we have adjusted the language we use to communicate with that client. We’re also working on implementing text message alerts to them.”
Andrea MacDonald’s firm, Steadfast Bookkeeping, however, is still developing this area of its business, so it takes a simpler approach. “Typically,” explains Andrea, “we send personalized emails asking questions about their satisfaction with our services. We are working to automate this so we can poll every client at specific intervals (like quarterly).”
3. Create a 5-Star Client Onboarding Experience 🤩
The onboarding experience you deliver can ensure you and your client are on the same page from the start. Onboarding usually includes:
- Outlining your process and expectations
- Defining how you’ll work together
- Understanding your client’s expectations
Steadfast Bookkeeping sends an email introduction to the clients’ bookkeeping manager and/or tax manager, which includes a personalized email from that manager.
“Our welcome guide explains how and when we communicate, along with our commitment to respond to all emails within 1 business day,” says Andrea. “We explain that we provide unlimited email support and that all phone calls must be scheduled in advance. Being very clear up front saves a lot of headache and discontent down the road.”
Brian Clare of Blueprint Accounting has a process called 6 x 6 onboarding. “It involves 6 meetings over 6 weeks to onboard a client,” explains Brian. “During this time, we’re sending requests back and forth, setting up software, training our clients on how we’ll work together, and getting the bookkeeping caught up.”
4. Empower Clients With Self-Service Options
Coaching clients to self-serve some pre-accounting work gives them more agency in their business and frees up time for you to focus on higher-value work to support their success. It doesn’t mean clients are entirely left to their own devices. Instead, it’s about providing resources and applying your skills where they matter most.
Self-service options can include a simple FAQ page that answers clients’ common questions, which reduces customer inquiries. Or they can be more sophisticated.
Blueprint Accounting provides a client portal that gives clients a holistic view of their business. The portal, Brian explains, “includes information such as a financial dashboard, live financial reports, an important date calendar, links to a task list, file storage, a knowledge base on accounting information, and various other links we might include based on each client.” (The Dashboard is a feature FreshBooks’ customers love, too.)
Sherwood Tax and Accounting has developed a tax roadmap for its advisory clients. “This means they always know what to expect next,” explains Kristen Keats, “the next deadline, the next payment due, and our next meeting. We find that this helps to quell the anxiety that so many clients have around taxes and reduces the email and phone call volume from clients asking us for information.”
5. Deliver Deeper Advisory Accounting Services
Building an accounting niche and advisory services allows you to elevate your client relationship beyond the transactional to a future-looking partnership where you work closely with clients to build trust.
Examples of advisory services for businesses include tax planning, cash flow forecasting, and price analysis.
Steadfast Bookkeeping gives proactive advice leading up to tax season. “We no longer offer once-per-year tax return filing services,” explains Andrea. “All of our tax clients are in a package that includes either 1, 2, or 4 tax projection updates throughout the year.”
The team sends out questionnaires ahead of those projections so they can capture changes in their clients’ tax lives well ahead of time and can consider those changes when completing projections.
“During the preparation of those projections,” explains Andrea, “we are looking for any and all tax savings strategies that we can find that apply to that client, and we include those strategies, along with steps to implement them, as well as a video of us walking them through the entire report.
“We always offer the ability to schedule a Zoom meeting to review, dig in deeper, or discuss the more complicated strategies.”
6. Leverage Technology
When it comes to tools designed to improve customer service, the choices can be overwhelming. Review customer needs (and your own!) when building your client services tech stack.
Here are some tech solutions accounting firms use for excellent client service:
- Andrea uses Rewind for cloud-based data backup. She says this gives clients “peace of mind knowing their financial data is backed up and retrievable in the event of an outage with the accounting software company.”
- To clean up client transactions, says Andrea, “we use Uncat connected to our accounting software, so we no longer have to send the client a spreadsheet (or Google Sheets) each month with the transactions for which we need additional info. The client gets a text message with a link and enters info for each transaction from their phone.”
- Chris uses Tally Street to send high-level reports to customers each week and Fathom “for reporting, forecasting, and organized advisory conversations.”
Collaborative Accounting Software
After setting up some of her small-business clients in FreshBooks, Nicole Davis, CPA, began working with them using FreshBooks’ Collaborative Accounting™ process. The user-friendly platform gives them the confidence to manage day-to-day tasks like categorizing expenses and reviewing accounts payable.
Says Nicole: “Now we can say [to clients], ‘These are things that you can do, and I feel confident you can do them.’ We’re collaborating together, and I’m much more comfortable allowing them to work in their books without me.”
She adds, “We’re able to spend much more time nurturing the client relationship, providing advisory and not just on the financial level but also the personal level.”
Improve Your Client Experience Today
In a world where accounting has become increasingly automated and poor customer service is more common than it should be, the key thing that will keep clients coming back is the client experience. It separates you from other accounting firms, deepens bonds with your clients, and turns them into raving fans who can’t do anything else but recommend you to others.
Just make sure you cultivate it through proactive communication, a high-quality onboarding experience, self-service options, regular customer feedback, technology, and deeper advisory services.
Do that, and you’ll build client loyalty and a sustainable accounting practice that will remain profitable for years to come.