Tracy Crevar Warren
Tracy Crevar Warren

Can You Afford to Leave Client Retention to Chance?

Key strategies for client growth and retention.

September 14, 2009
by Tracy Crevar Warren

I had just about put pressing thoughts of my normal work day out of mind as I lounged by the infinity pool recently at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. You know the stuff CPAs are concerned with these days like customer retention, practice growth and leadership. But “doggone it,” the more I heard conversations during my vacation like “I have been coming here every year since I was a child” or “we have been bringing our family here for 15-plus years,” or “this is the highlight of our year,” I had to take notice.

Let’s get real! This place didn’t become the longest-running consecutive winner and one of only 18 hotels to hold both coveted titles of Mobil Five Star, AAA Five Diamond by chance. Sure it’s situated in one of the most beautiful settings on the planet, 3,000 acres at the base of Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains. Yes, the grounds are amazing with everything from 54 holes of championship golf, to the nation’s top-rated tennis teaching facility, and 18 restaurants and lounges including the state’s only five-diamond restaurant. There was more to it than award-winning facilities which kept people coming back.

Although I promised myself that I was not going to work on this vacation, the suspense was killing me. Especially since the 2009 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey revealed that customer retention scored high in keeping CPAs awake at night. That’s when I made an appointment not for the spa but to meet with Danielle Roberts, The Broadmoor’s director of training. I wanted to learn some secrets for client retention that could work in our industry.

CPAs Are NOT in the Hospitality Industry

Okay. I know what you are thinking. We’re not in the hospitality business. We’re CPAs. Hold on. There is some important common ground. As Roberts and I talked, we realized that we are both in the service industry. People are people. Clients are clients. A CPA’s job is to take care of their clients. No matter how great your facilities are, and how knowledgeable your staff is, there are plenty of CPA firms that will pick up your slack if you don’t do your job and do them with passion and excellence. As leaders, it is essential for CPA firms to help their employees be the best service providers to their clients.

Standards Are Essential

“Everyone in a service organization knows that providing excellent service is part of the job. But unless people understand exactly what that means and how it relates to them, it is almost impossible to uphold such a promise,” said Roberts.

The Broadmoor’s has a clearly-defined and well communicated vision for service “Above and Beyond Our Guests Expectations.” Moreover, the resort has 16 specific service standards that help employees achieve this vision. These standards include dimensions essential to client service such as: learn what is expected of your department, so you anticipate the needs of the guests and employees you service; and never appear hurried even if you are very busy.

These standards are part of an overall client service framework that is taught to all employees beginning at new employee orientation. This framework is reinforced in the more than 75 classes offered to employees throughout their careers and during surprise visits from the leadership team during the year. The Broadmoor not only helps their employees learn what excellence means, but helps them truly understand how to put it to work in meaningful ways each day.

How Do You Measure Up?

Clients expect more than technically sound work from CPAs. They want advisors who care about them and their business, and go out of their way to make them feel important. Many firms brag about outstanding client service, but fall short by not helping their employees understand what client service excellence really means and how to put that to work during an engagement. Consider these questions:

  • Is client service truly a competitive advantage for your firm?
  • Does your firm have a clearly defined vision of client service?
  • Do you have written client-service standards in place to support your client service vision?
  • Are they reviewed regularly with your staff?
  • Do you simply challenge your staff to provide excellent service without written guidelines for what this looks like and how to put it in place?

When client service is left to chance, how can you truly be assured that your staff is providing the kind of service you have built your reputation on and can be proud? CPAs learn from their superiors. What happens when the technically brilliant mentor is an introvert, or worse a curmudgeon?

Authenticity Is a Must

Perhaps the mention of defined client service standards is triggering something in the back of your head. I don’t want my staff to turn into clones, sounding fake and canned like the attendant at the fast food drive through who remarks “my pleasure.” Neither do the leaders at The Broadmoor. “We work hard to help our employees put our vision and standards in place, while adapting them to their own style. We help them do so in a way that works for each employee and each customer,” pointed out Roberts.


It’s funny. We look so hard at what each other are doing inside the accounting industry that we often miss some of the best chances to bring new ideas into our firms. Not fly-by-night concepts but tried-and-true best practices — that with a little modification — can give our firms substantial competitive advantages. The best thing is that these ideas are all around us, but we just need to take notice. Beware! They often come at inopportune times, like while we are on vacation. If we are going to truly going to overcome challenges such as retaining our clients, we must continue to look for new ways to achieve greatness.

Can you really leave client service to chance? Look for more tips to improve client retention in an upcoming article.

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Tracy Crevar Warren is founder of The Crevar Group. She advises professional services firms on practice growth, growth-focused leadership, transformational change, niche development, sales and marketing. An author and frequent speaker for local, regional, national and international groups, she inspires and empowers audiences to do more of the work they love. Warren can be reached at 336-889-GROW (4769).