More than two decades ago when I headed up member communications for the Texas Society of CPAs, I managed the “Client Perception Survey,” a program members could purchase to find out how their clients felt about their firm’s services. We snail mailed the surveys and waited for the responses to come in, and reports were run on an old dot matrix printer. The technology was slow, but the real stumbling block was the fact that we never received more than about 1 percent client participation for each firm. Needless to say, the program was eventually scrapped because it wasn’t cost effective.
Fast forward to 2018, where it would be very unusual to find any tax firm mailing out surveys for their clients to complete. Although it might seem unique and an attention getter to get something in the mail versus email or other means, the cost alone would prohibit most firms from mailing out surveys.
Client feedback is important! Any firm that isn’t asking its clients for comment is truly flying blind; how can you know how to improve all sorts of things without measuring what you’re currently doing? Today, thanks to technology and a bit of ingenuity, there are several ways to find out what clients think of you and your firm. Here are five for consideration:
#1: Set up a simple online survey. While this may be obvious, I’m including it to remind firms to survey their clients. Without conducting any scientific research, I am very sure many firms don’t ask for feedback on any regular basis – even once a year after busy season. Firms either don’t know how to survey or even what to ask. Let’s break this down:
- Use a low-cost application such as SurveyMonkey, where the mid-range plan is $384/year. That equates to a few hours of billable time. You’ll get quite a few options with this plan to create dynamic surveys.
- Send out a link to the survey by email several times annually, once after busy season and once in the fall.
- You can provide an incentive for participation such as a coffee shop gift card, but firms will probably find that their most interested clients will gladly complete the survey right away. Clients like the fact that you asked them for their opinion.
- Now, as to what to ask, you’ll want to be rated on three key things: how you’re doing, what you’re delivering and what you could be offering. If you stick to questions focused in these three areas, you’ll get plenty of feedback to use to better your firm.
#2: Take a client to lunch. We all eat lunch, so why not make the most of your time and take a client to lunch to talk about your relationship, strengths, weaknesses and where you can improve. Set a goal of one lunch every two weeks, for example – or whatever cadence is good for you. This is a great way to get face time with your clients in a non-business environment. I know you can’t write off entertainment expenses, but think about all the positives you’ll gain in lieu of saving a few dollars.
#3: Ask for reviews. You’ll want to get clients to write reviews of you and your firm on Yelp, LinkedIn and other review sites. Remember that every review is searchable online, which means if someone is searching for “tax” and your city, you might be found near the top of the page if you have a regular posting of client reviews. If by chance you get a negative review, don’t panic or engage in a war of words. Try to talk to the client – if the person is still a client –and resolve the issues.
#4: Ask for referrals. This one may sound a little unorthodox … what do referrals have to do with feedback? Look at it this way: if you get a steady stream of warm referrals from a client, you’ll know the client is pleased with your work. If some clients never provide referrals or seem to dodge the topic, then dig deeper to find out if there’s something under the surface that needs addressed.
#5: Link measurement to staff performance. A few years ago, I consulted on a project for a tax firm that wanted to tie client feedback into its staff performance reviews to come up with another way to measure the firm’s effectiveness. This is fairly easy to do. Simply identify which clients you want to link to the appropriate staff, set up your questions in SurveyMonkey, add an introductory note as to why the client is receiving the survey about the employee(s) and compute the results to match other results in the performance reviews. Not only will you get direct feedback about the staff; clients will also like the fact that you asked their opinion, and the entire exercise will solidify your role as a true partner.
Editor’s note: For an additional resource, read “How to Put Together a Post Tax Season Client Survey” by Renee Daggett, EA.