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Pandemic drives client service improvements

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MEDIA RELEASE: The ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns are having a positive impact on the level of client service by accounting firms, with the majority of clients more satisfied with the service provided to them and their businesses, according to the chair of the HLB Mann Judd Australasian Association Tony Fittler.

The Association has a long-standing affiliation with Client Culture, a Melbourne-based customer experience consultancy which specialises in generating client insights via Net Promoter Score (NPS) research.

Across the HLB Mann Judd network of member firms, the NPS increased from 73 in 2019 (pre-COVID) to 86 following the first lockdown of 2020 – an increase of 18 per cent (the accounting industry average increased from 58 to 71).

“We have spoken with many business owners who have been concerned about the viability of their operations as a result of the pandemic. For many, the first port of call is their accountant, who is in the best position to take stock of their position – including any liabilities and losses – and devise an appropriate strategy.

“The fact most of these clients see real, tangible value in this service and what it means for the long-term longevity of their businesses shows the value of our long-standing commitment to client service,” Mr Fittler said.

Research from Client Culture also shows loyalty among professional service firm clients has increased to record highs during the peak pandemic period of 2020, with many reluctant to move from their existing relationship.

Mr Fittler said many firms have refined their client service offering during the pandemic, and established deeper connections with their clients, particularly through increased communication, both formal and informal.

“Often it’s as simple as a partner taking the time to pick up the phone and call a client to check in and see how the business is going. The unplanned nature of these conversations is shaking out issues and concerns that would otherwise go unnoticed.

“Partners and their teams have worked tirelessly over the past year to help keep their clients afloat and provide them with professional, expert advice.

“One benefit of the NPS research is it also provides a feedback loop from participating clients who provide comment on individual partners and staff. In this regard, it becomes an important personal development tool for people to be aware of their strengths, as well as work on any perceived weaknesses,” he said.

Following the onset of COVID, there was also a notable change in the tone of language used within NPS feedback, with an increase in emotive language, such as ‘care’, ‘concern’, ‘respect’, ‘support’, and ‘authentic’, suggesting a strengthening of the relationship between accountant and client.

Mr Fittler said given many firms are delivering a combination of compliance advice and traditional business advisory, the key to quality client service will continue to be timeliness and responsiveness.

“Even a quick email or message acknowledging the request or scheduling a time to call back can make a big difference. The advice also needs to be delivered in a way that the client understands, and the issues being addressed need to be important to the client.

“Trust is also key. Loyalty and trust are the two biggest components as measured by the NPS that have increased significantly during COVID. Clients need to trust that you’re doing the right thing by them; if you say you’re going to do something, you do it, and you deliver on time. When people have trust, they have peace of mind, which is more important now than ever,” he said.

HLB Mann Judd Australasian Association was recently named Network of the Year at the 2021 Australian Accounting Awards, which recognise excellence across the accounting profession. The Network of the Year Award acknowledges the accounting network that provides growth opportunities to its associated firms and is focused on enabling quality client service.

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