Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Six Ways to Save a Client Today

Local accounting firm redefines "R&D" for client retention and business development. How to keep clients happy and build your business.

March 15, 2010
by Rick Telberg/At Large

At most companies, “R&D” means “research and development.” But at Dugan & Lopatka CPAs in Wheaton, Ill., every staffer knows it means client “retention and development,” as in business development.

Like many firms faced a couple years ago with the credit crash and ensuing Great Recession, Dugan & Lopatka’s attention was wrenched from landing new clients to serving the clients they already had. “We started a renewed focus on client retention and business development,” according to Managing Principal Jerry Lopatka, who dropped me a line in response to “Do You Know the Secrets of Happy Clients?

Dugan & Lopatka has 45 people, including nine principals. It specializes in the usual small- and medium-size business lines — manufacturing, distribution, real estate and construction. This tax season, they’ll probably do about 750 returns.

Today, what the firm abbreviates as “Biz R&D” “is a daily focus for all of us,” Lopatka says.

The firm’s “Biz R&D” program contains six building blocks, which may be intuitive for many and familiar to anyone who has studied relationship marketing or consultative selling:

  1. Going the extra mile on the current engagement.
  • Conducting extra analysis using business-intelligence tools like BizBench.
  • Bring the project in earlier than promised.
  • Or hand-deliver reports and discuss in person.
  1. Increasing the amount of client contact (see related story.)
  • Visit at every opportunity.
  • Schedule business meetings near mealtimes to grab some extra quality time over a nice meal.
  • Invite the client into the firm’s office.
  1. Building the business relationship.
  • Help the client network with your other clients.
  • Offer free seminars for the client’s staff.
  • Refer new business to the client.
  1. Building the personal relationship.
  • Understand their goals in life and business.
  • Get hard-to-find tickets to big games or shows.
  • Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
  1. Increasing knowledge of the client’s industry.
  • Read the same trade journals they do.
  • Learn all you can about their competitors.
  • Join them at trade shows.
  1. Increasing knowledge of the client’s company.
  • Spend time with the junior managers.
  • Understand the company’s power structure.
  • Meet the boss.

Of course, the firm’s leadership knows that the “R&D” plan would mean nothing without support from the staff. So they launched it at a firm-wide meeting, tied it into training consultant Troy Waugh’s Five Star Client Service Model, available, by the way, through the AICPA’s PCPS division.

On top of that, Lopatka nudges them with an early-morning daily e-mail. By the time you read this, the firm may be posting those notes on a blog, open to clients and prospects. Check their Web site.

Is all the effort worth it? What’s the return on investment (ROI), every CPA asks. “I can’t quantify it,” Lopatka admits. “But I’m afraid what to think if we didn’t have the program.”

“We try, but we can always do better,” he says. “As I often tell our employees — our good clients are on our competitor’s radar screen.”

Let that be fair warning to Dugan & Lopatka’s competitors, as well.

ARE THEY ON THE RIGHT TRACK?  Dugan & Lopatka is one of many firms pioneering new techniques and strategies for successful CPA firm management. What’s working at your firm? Tell me and we’ll share the best ideas.

AICPA RESOURCES: Client Service Resource Center
  Human Capital Center Toolbox Series

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.