Tracy Crevar Warren

Do You Have a Client Bill of Rights?

Client retention is a major concern of CPAs today. How you can ease fears and retain more happy clients.

September 12, 2011
by Tracy Crevar Warren

It’s no secret that client retention is on the minds of practitioners these days. In fact it is one of the top concerns for many according to the 2011 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. But what can you do to ease fears and keep more happy clients aboard?

In these turbulent times when client service is at all-time lows, a little effort can go a long way. One positive step your firm can take is to put a Client Bill of Rights in place.

What Is a Client Bill of Rights?

Simply defined, it is a document that outlines what clients will receive from your firm. Unlike a personalized engagement letter it contains specific deliverables for the client such as:

  • You will always be treated in a professional and courteous manner.

  • You will receive clear and timely answers to your questions.

  • You will have access to a service team that will take a proactive approach to your situation.

  • You will receive work on time.

  • Your phone calls and e-mails will be returned by the end of the business day.

  • You will be billed in a prompt manner.

  • You will receive a clear explanation of how your fees are calculated.

Why Is This Important?

When you get right down to it, client service is at the core of the business. But it’s important to understand that excellent service can mean different things to different people.

“We put a Bill of Rights (BOR) in place to make sure the how and why of client service was documented for all staff. The command to ‘provide excellent client service’ can be interpreted many ways by people so the BOR makes it clear,” says Bill Cloppert, managing director at Cincinnati, Ohio-based accounting firm, Barnes Dennig.

Let’s face it, practitioners don’t intend to provide a poor client experience. It’s quite the contrary as most practitioners pride themselves on providing outstanding service. Unfortunately in this over-stimulated environment, in which we are forced to do more with less, marginal service can often result without intent.

“We talk client service all the time, but we wanted to give our staff something in writing to make sure they internalized what client service really meant,” said Anne Glass, chief operating officer at the Irvine, Calif.-based CPA firm Wertz & Company. “That’s exactly what the Client Bill of Rights allowed us to do.”

When you develop a clear picture of what great client service looks like, clients know what to expect before the relationship begins. That goes for each person in your firm too. The Client Bill of Rights just makes it easier for professionals to deliver on the promises that your firm makes to your clients.

“The BOR clarifies and makes tangible to clients what ‘great service’ means,” added Cloppert. “Not only does the BOR put some meat on the bone, but it gives clients a scorecard [to which] they can hold us accountable.”

What Are the Benefits?

There are a number of benefits that a BOR can provide to your organization and your clients including:

  • Practitioners understanding what their expectations are in serving clients.
  • Clients knowing what they can expect from your firm.
  • Management having a scorecard that clients can use to hold the firm accountable.
  • There is a baseline understanding of what must be delivered in the relationship, when transitions in the client service team must take place.

How to Get Started?

“We first introduced the Bill of Rights at a firm meeting where all received a copy of the document. We held a discussion to get the staff talking about what everyday actions our people could take to live the spirit of the BOR,” says Chris Perrino, business development director at Barnes Dennig. We then added it to the website and included it in the firm brochure.”

Here are some steps that your firm can take to develop a BOR for your clients:

  • Define what outstanding client service means in your firm.
  • Identify the goals that you expect your team to achieve when serving your clients.
  • Outline assistance that the leadership team will provide to help employees put these new rules in place, such as training, coaching and mentoring.
  • Present the BOR to everyone in your firm.
  • Add it to your firm’s website and your brochures.
  • Develop a regular training session to introduce it to new employees.
  • Introduce it to all prospective clients during your meetings.
  • Include the BOR in your proposals.

“We have a framed copy of the firm’s Bill of Rights in our lobby. We also include it in all of our engagement letters,” added Glass. “It creates accountability on everyone’s part.”

“New employees meet with the managing director their first week and he discusses the BOR with them,” remarked Perrino. “This assures that the BOR stands out in their mind that this is to be learned and lived. It’s not just another topic discussed during their welcome to the firm process.”

Keys to Success

“The key to success is ‘walking the talk’ every day. In other words, we must live up to the statements of the BOR in every interaction with clients,” says Cloppert. “It guides our thoughts and provides a path forward.”

Is it time for a Client Bill of Rights in your firm?

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, author and coach, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she empowers practitioners to do more of the work they love. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769).