The Complacency Trap: How CPA Firms Can Gain Trust Beyond Order Taking

The Complacency Trap: How CPA Firms Can Gain Trust Beyond Order Taking

We often have a picture of CPA firms that they do not feel like they have to exert themselves to retain clients. In other words, they have to screw up pretty badly to lose them. That’s a low bar to clear. File taxes when they have to be filed, ensure your client remains in compliance, help them claim the proper deductions, that sort of thing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

However, this complacency is a bit of the devil when it comes to client relationships more than anything else. It’s not that you’re going to achieve gold plated status with every client you have. But with your best clients, they have to feel as though they are your best client. It’s up to you to do that.

We’re not saying this applies to every Partner like yourself, but let’s face it: Partners can admittedly get complacent. They have a nice book of clients and they decide that they have a nice life. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, some of them forget how to hustle.

What’s the issue with that? Nothing at first. But what if one of your large clients is acquired? What if two of them unexpectedly go out of business? You had an extensive network to help you develop new business, but most of those have moved on. The bankers that you knew. The lawyers that you did business with. They may no longer be in the same job or environment.

Now you’re in a spot where you’ve lost a sizable chunk of your book and all of a sudden, you’re feeling very vulnerable.

The Value-Added Opportunity

In most cases, for me, the best types of relationships were with family-owned businesses. When you’re dealing with owner entrepreneurs, it’s a different issue because it’s their money and their business. So they need people that can give them excellent advice that they’re inclined to listen to.

Create a value-added approach to retain clients compared to those who are at risk of losing clients when they are simply “order takers.” If a client is merely satisfied, is there anything that these firms can aim for, not only to retain that client but rather to help that client to see all the extra value of working with that firm? Is there anything that can be done that might lead to an opportunity to cross-sell or upsell products and services

The real question here is, “How do we become strategic to gain their trust?”

We must be adept at being good listeners, understanding what the client needs, what their business needs and what they are trying to accomplish.

If it’s closely held, how is the family doing? What are the dynamics there? Are they in this for the long term? Do we make an effort to understand them and know how they want to be served versus viewing them as a cash register?

When we genuinely help them get to where they want to go, the satisfaction on both sides of the table can be incredible.

It took me five years to reach that point with a local company in Chicago. After five years, I was able to help them understand that I had their best interests at heart. Ironically, it happened over a rather mundane issue. It was a state audit issue and I asked the right question of the Minnesota Department of Revenue. The question saved them the better part of a million dollars in the space of about a minute and a half.

The secret? I was just trying to be fair. That’s it. I tell CPA practitioners this all the time – be fair with your clients. See, with almost every client, issues are going to arise. There’s going to be billing overruns and other problems that come up. When they do, tell them about those problems. You want the client to understand the issues and how you always have their best interest in mind. You want them to walk away from the encounter believing that you treated them fairly and listened to them.

Fairness. The guiding principle in developing trusting relationships. And when you have to deliver bad news, it will rarely, if ever, let you down as you strive to maintain client relationships.

Evolving With The Changing Location Of Work

If yours is like many, your CPA firm has done a good job of staying close to your clients during the last year. If you haven’t, they’re probably no longer a client! However, even if things seem fairly secure, it’s wise to have some perspective on what the new and changing landscape of remote work means for CPA firms. In truth, being remote can create a certain degree of stress internally with your team and externally with your clients, but at least they have become accustomed to working with your people in this manner.

Still, whether most of your team will be remote or hybrid or returning to the office full-time, this you can be sure of: There are a number of firms targeting your best clients every day. Just like you are undoubtedly targeting their best clients.

We’ve seen it play out several times where an unsuspecting firm lost a client who never communicated problems and was merely satisfied at best. When they jumped to another CPA firm, the Partners were so caught off guard that the client was unhappy. Have you talked to your clients lately about how they feel about the services you have provided? Have you talked to your targets about the service they have received from their firm over the last 15 months? We suspect that we will see a lot of clients changing firms in the next several months. It is somewhat hard to do when everyone is working remotely, but that barrier is likely to be gone soon. Take the time now to see how your clients feel and take corrective action for issues while you still have time.

The Silver Lining Post-Complacency

When you’ve lost a client due to being complacent and being an “order taker,” it becomes very hard to fall into that trap again.

You’ve always got to have an edge to you. You’ve always got to be slightly paranoid on a controlled basis about running out of work. And you want your people to understand that when they’re ready and they’re going to make Partner, you’re going to cede some of your books to them.

By that time, if you’ve done it right by properly delegating, the people about to step up are ready because the client now sees them as the primary contact. They start being a little hungry, with a partial book they’re going to go out and scrap for, so they can build more clients.

And now for you, as the sponsoring Partner, we can forecast some of the work that keeps you hungry too. What’s more, if you become a talent magnet inside the firm, you’ll have a track record of making somebody else Partner. And we’re quite sure that magnetism will represent you very well in the future to the leadership team and the firm’s clients.

Let’s talk about how you can elevate the current relationships with various clients on your roster. Professional Strategy Group can help your whole firm experience this upgrade with the kind of coaching, training and workshops made for distinct levels. Partners. Recently promoted Managers. Senior Managers transitioning to Partner. Senior staff. There truly is something for everyone when it comes from one of the best programs dedicated to the success of CPA firms. Call us at 312.860.0873 or email