Have you asked your clients for feedback on how you are doing? Many tax and accounting professionals avoid doing so. The thought of surveying clients to see what’s not going well scares them. Instead, they operate from a “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” mindset.
Well, guess what? Clients are giving you this feedback even if you don’t ask for it, and it can hurt you if you ignore the feedback. The popularity of online reviews today lets your clients tell the world what it’s like to work with you. Think of it as word-of-mouth referrals in a social, media-driven society. According to a 2015 survey by BrightLocal, 80 percent of people trust reviews as much as they do personal recommendations.
You can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend these online reviews don’t exist because the reviews contain potentially valuable information, and you should use them as you would any feedback from your clients: to improve what you do.
A Bad Review Isn’t the End of the World
If a client calls you with a complaint, what do you do? You probably don’t ignore it, yell at the client or tell them they are wrong. You probably listen intently, apologize for any error you made and figure out how to rectify the situation.
Everyone drops the ball sometimes. The difference is that people now voice their frustrations through digital platforms, and some people are more comfortable sharing on social media than they are talking to you personally. The key is still how you deal with it. Start by reminding yourself that it’s okay that you aren’t perfect and that a few negative comments actually make your positive ones look more real. Treat negative online reviews the same way you would with in-person ones. Be respectful, acknowledge the person’s situation or feelings, and show them you are human with your response and not a robotic, faceless business.
If you anticipate a negative review, be proactive and search to see if anything was written so that you can address it promptly. I know of one small accounting firm that knew it recently upset a client and were afraid of backlash, even though the firm profusely apologized. Management proactively searched online so that they could respond to any negativity. This involved social media searches not tied to their account – for example, their Twitter handle or on their Facebook page – because their social handles may not have been “tagged” in the complaint. They also set up Google Alerts for the firm name and any staff names so that they can see if any new content, mentioning them, appeared on the Internet. Luckily, they have not yet heard from this upset client online, but they are prepared with a response and process if they do.
How you respond to the complaint is only part of the solution; the other part is to take this feedback honestly and make changes in your business so that you don’t repeat the situation.
Look for Areas of Improvement
How can you turn a negative into a positive? Let’s look at an actual review for a firm, Banana & Associates (name changed to protect the company’s identity). To paraphrase what the reviewer said, “I used this firm based on positive online reviews for Partner Amy. I really liked her and then she disappeared. No one responded to me for over two months. When I did hear from them, they made excuses, and were defensive and unprofessional. Firm staff overcharged me, was slow to respond and didn’t complete everything they agreed to.”
Ouch. The worst part is that there were other similar reviews for Banana & Associates during the same timeframe, so this wasn’t a one-off situation. However, there are clearly improvement areas in this review. After addressing the review online (which Banana & Associates successfully did), the firm should decide if the comments point to any deficiencies. At first glance, they could consider customer service training for staff, developing processes/policies for better communication with clients, and finding a way to be more transparent with billing. Improving in any, or all, of these areas will make the practice stronger.
Reviews Provide Insights into Culture
While there are areas for soft skills improvement, the Banana & Associates review also says a lot about the culture of the firm. Your culture isn’t easy to define, but it can be seen in the way you treat clients and employees. It can be tied to your values, philosophies and/or attitudes, and it has a direct impact on the success of your business.
Given that Banana & Associates had a few negative reviews with similar comments, it doesn’t appear as if the firm has a culture where the client is right, inquiries are quickly responded to, staff comes together to work as a team or others are treated with complete professionalism at all times.
The good news is that you can change the culture of your organization, but it’s not easy.
Training is a part of it, but so is setting a tone at the top as to the type of behavior you expect in client interactions, and then practicing what you preach. Reward people who live your culture and make it an improvement area for those who don’t. When you go to hire new members to your team, make sure they have what it takes to live your culture on a daily basis. Be creative in how you get people to practice what you feel is important. If you want them to work as a team, is your office set up in a way for people to work together? Is there meeting space for them to discuss the client and brainstorm ways to better serve them?
Learn from Your Clients
Whenever you process data, you aim to find trends or themes that you can improve. That’s why companies conduct client satisfaction surveys— to see where they can be better. Online reviews are giving you the same information in an unstructured format. If you are willing to listen, you will learn from your clients what your true strengths and weaknesses are.
It’s up to you what you do with this information, but you are missing the boat if you don’t use it to build a stronger practice. Smart companies will work to solve problems before they repeat themselves. Leaders will share this feedback with their entire staff so that they know what clients think of what they do. Together, everyone will work to provide superior client service each and every day.
You will receive more positive online reviews and produce leads as a result. That’s a win for your clients and your practice.
Editor’s note: Check out Katie Tolin’s companion article, “How to Ask Your Clients for Online Reviews,” and share below your own experiences on how you dealt with positive or negative online reviews.