The services that accountants provide can be divided according to the level of value the client receives. The three levels of value are the minimum service, the quality service and the value added service.
The minimum service is poor or mediocre compliance service that fulfils the client’s minimum needs, but does not address the client’s expectations. Most dissatisfied clients and a number of satisfied clients receive this level of service. The minimum service is any compliance work such as financial accounts and tax returns. Clients who are satisfied with this generally tend to go for the lowest quote and are happy for a bookkeeping firm or sole practitioner to do the work for them.
The quality service is again, basic compliance work that is carried out in a way that adequately meets the client’s expectations. The difference between this and the previous level is in the quality of the service. This level produces satisfied clients and is what most accountants provide. Their clients typically prefer value for fees and seek a high quality accountancy service. While this level of service meets the client’s basic expectations, it does not usually add value to their business.
The value added service is any work of high quality that is augmented by superb service and supporting services. The main difference between this and the previous level is that it adds real value to the client’s business. This level produces happy clients who actively assist you by referring your firm. The value added services are what distinguish leading edge accountants from the rest. These services are augmented by value-added services as:
- Returning phone calls promptly
- Not charging for phone calls
- Providing personal financial planning advice for business owners
- Providing business planning, tax minimisation planning, and estate and pension planning services
- Monitoring internally prepared monthly accounts for annual clients
Although time is usually in short supply, it is important to create the time to provide value added services to clients. Even though it might be difficult to maintain, it is essential to include a value added service level in your marketing program. Once you commit to marketing you have to maintain a high level of service; otherwise your program will backfire. It will not simply stagnate, it will become counterproductive, and your hard-earned reputation will be the first casualty.
If a firm that has no marketing program begins to perform poorly its accumulated store of goodwill built up during better times will tend to protect it from any immediate damage, and it will take some time for disenchantment to set in among the clients. In fact they will need to consistently perform poorly over a fairly long period before they actually start to lose clients. Moreover, their lack of marketing will ensure that their reputation will not suffer outside of existing circles.
By contrast, a firm that is actively marketing its services raises its profile both with existing clients and with prospective clients. Any decline in the quality of service will be judged more harshly by existing clients, and will also adversely affect the firm’s wider reputation. On average, a happy client will inform five potential clients about the quality of a firm’s work, but an unhappy client will tell twenty people about the state of your service.