When a practice is acquired, I believe speed, availability and continuity are three major attributes that make a difference in client retention.
The acquired clients might be skeptical or not understand how the new guy or gal could ever do as well as their long-time accountant so they need reassurance. This is provided by how quickly you contact them, how available you are, and appear to be, and assure the client that you have full access to their entire files and database. Unless the practitioner died, you should also reassure the clients that the former accountant is available to you for consultations on special and complicated issues. Another reassurance is that your fees would be “consistent” with what they have been paying.
This is important to show that you are on top of things, the handoff will be seamless and in case the client finds out about the change you will already have established your presence. Delaying can give clients time to shop around, or to contact an accountant they already know who has been pushing for their business for quite some time. You have to contact the client eventually, so why not quickly?
One of the biggest complaints many clients have is the lack of return calls, emails or responses to requests. When I receive a new client, I try to see them (in person or virtually) right away, then a week or two later and a couple of weeks after then. My goal is three meetings in the first six weeks. This works for me and has definitely increased retention and smoothed out the transfer. I also make sure I return their calls and emails promptly and also initiate a few emails and calls to “check in.”
Clients believe there is some magic sauce when the old files are available. It certainly makes the transition easier, but it can also be done without anything prior. Assuring the clients you have access and possession of their prior work will certainly be a calming influence.
Access to prior accountant
Having access to the prior accountant is important to make sure of the services that need to be performed and any special situations with the client. However, even more important for the client is to know they are not being totally abandoned by their long-time accountant, who will be available to you, and them, as necessary.
Fees are always a concern. I suggest reassuring the new client that your fees would be consistent with what they have been paying. One way is to tell them that the coming year’s fees will be what they paid last year with a 5% inflation bump, and that you will review the fee with them at the end of the year to see if it is in order or should be reduced or increased and the nature of the services they will require. One comment is that “consistent” doesn’t mean the same. If a client had a $700 tax return last year, then this year’s fee would be $735. However, if they sold a rental property, or started day trading and had 400 trades, that would be added services, and a fee for those extra services would apply and should be discussed with them beforehand. Assure the client that they and you would agree on what it would be. After all, you are still running a business.
Client retention is always important for us, but I believe continuity is also important for the client. Be there and reassure them.
The above is for larger and more important clients, and not every tax client. However, speed, availability, continuity, access and fees are also important to them. Try calling everyone to introduce yourself, provide your cell number, and follow up with a letter and emails. I also know from my own experience that sometimes a very small tax return client has referred substantial business, and their fee would never ever be increased by me.
Use this as a guide, but it is based on my successful experience.
A final comment is to consider some of this for your ongoing clients as well.
Do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com with your practice management questions or about engagements you might not be able to perform.
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” He also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.