Growing your accounting firm is exciting, but let’s face it: client management can become a circus act. One challenge that keeps many firm owners scratching their heads is when clients insist on having a single point of contact.
Here’s an example: Multiple team members are responsible for different tasks on the same engagement, but the client insists on always sending emails to just one contact person. This can be an extra hassle because now that team member needs to ensure everyone else is included and informed of important updates; otherwise, they risk missing out on crucial information. Meanwhile, that person has work to do! They may fall behind on email, leading to a less-than-desirable customer experience.
It may be tricky to satisfy customers who prefer one contact person. However, if we are committed to offering the best customer service experience and taking it seriously, we must find an appropriate way of granting this perk.
So how do you tame the beast of client expectations without turning your scalable process into a feat of acrobatics? Fear not! Here are two ways to solve this problem, recommended by a few forward-thinking firm owners.
1. Set up a Shared Email Inbox
The simplest way to step into the future of client communication is with a shared email inbox. Instead of relying on one person to handle communications, share emails across your team so any member can respond quickly and efficiently – no matter their current location or availability.
Brian Clare says, “The way I have explained this to clients is that when it is one-to-one work, it can fall behind because if that person goes on vacation and requests are locked in their emails, then we cannot act. With one-to-many, anyone can answer and knows how the client’s books work, and nothing is dropped when someone is not around. No one has pushed back on this.”
Jan Haugo also uses the shared inbox approach. She also ensures that systems and processes are the same from client to client, “so if someone goes on vacation, then you can interchange a person for that period. All information is transparent, making communication more seamless and easier to scale.”
Even with a shared inbox, it can still be challenging to get clients to embrace it. Sherrell T. Martin says, “I don’t get pushback from clients, but my assistant and I have to remind them to stop cc’ing our direct emails on everything. I think they think it will get answered faster that way. I use Front and have one general client email, but I was wondering if it would be better to have individual inboxes for each client.”
Two approaches to shared inboxes
As Sherrell indicated, you can set up shared inboxes in two ways.
Option one is to create a shared inbox for each customer. This method grants the team working on them immediate access, making it convenient and straightforward since you only need Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace’s native features. Nonetheless, as your list of clients grows, this tactic can take more effort since you’ll have to set up a shared inbox for each new client, plus manage access for your team.
The second option is to have a unified email address for all client communication. For instance, “firstname.lastname@example.org.” This is easy to manage as your firm grows since you don’t have to worry about setting up a new inbox for each new client. However, you’ll quickly need specialized software to route emails to the appropriate team members. Fortunately, this has been solved with help desk tools such as Help Scout or Front. These tools also allow you to funnel all outgoing emails from the same address, ensuring that replies go back into the shared inbox.
2. Provide a Client Concierge
Another approach is to embrace the single point of contact and even take it to the next level by providing a “client concierge.” This team member’s primary role is to act as the customer’s advocate within the firm.
Ideally — and this is important — the client concierge does little or no client work themselves. This way, they can focus on responding quickly, forwarding those requests to the right team members, and getting back to clients immediately.
This concierge-level service may be expensive to deliver, and that’s OK. You don’t have to offer it to all clients. You may want to offer it only to your top clients paying the biggest bucks.
Clint Bowers says, “We found that without having one person to go to, our clients felt like they were the train conductor and would sometimes end up frustrated; they did not want to figure out which person to contact for different services. A client-specific shared inbox does help, and we use them, but it still did not create any sense of ownership for that client, and they felt that. So, although we still have multiple folks contacting them, they know who their ‘go-to’ is if they need it – sort of their ambassador. We are trying to build that sense of comfort.”
Dave Olsen configured Front to ensure every email is assigned to a team member, depending on the client. He says, “The client’s team gets each email, so anyone can address it. Whom the email gets auto-assigned to depends on the client. If there is a high volume of administrative tasks, such as many bills coming in, they will be assigned to the bookkeeper. The bookkeeper will then reassign them to the client manager or controller as appropriate. If there is less volume and mostly higher-level communication, the client manager will be auto-assigned, and they can reassign it to the controller or bookkeeper as needed. The client knows that the client manager is their primary day-to-day contact. The controller also builds a relationship with the client so that the client is never dependent on one relationship and knows they can go to the controller with any concerns.”
Conclusion: Balance Personalization with Efficiency
Ultimately, the key to managing client expectations while maintaining scalability is to strike the right balance between personalization and efficiency. By implementing one or both of the strategies above, you can foster strong relationships and ensure your clients feel heard, supported, and valued.
This article originally appeared in Earmark Edge.