Sabotaging Your Marketing Efforts by Losing Clients? Here Are Nine Ideas for Client Retention

Client retention is the foundation for the growth of your accounting firm. Fred Reichheld of Bain & Co. (the inventor of the net promoter score) shows increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.

Yet, it is only when our economy is weak that accountants consider client retention a top priority. According to the PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Surveys, client retention has not ranked among the top five issues since 2013 (ranked #4 by sole practitioners and #5 by firms with 11-20 professionals).

In 2009, after the economic collapse, client retention was chosen as the top issue for every segment. By 2015, with a stronger economy, client retention completely dropped off the Top 5 list. In 2021, finding qualified staff, keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws, and keeping up with COVID relief programs are firms’ top concerns.

When the economy is strong priorities shift to other challenges – and there are certainly many challenges to operating an accounting firm, especially during a pandemic. However, an inconsistent focus on client retention will hurt firms in the long run.

Are you ready to take advantage of this overlooked marketing strategy? Here are nine ideas to create your client retention program.

1. Define your ideal client. 

Evaluate your clients, considering fee, realization, ability to pay/timeliness, year-end, growth potential, risk, location, leads expected from the client and opportunities to cross-sell. Use this analysis to define your ideal client, which can be used in your marketing program. This information will also help you identify those clients to fire or transition out.

2. Know why clients leave your firm. 

In research conducted by CPA Trendlines clients indicate that the #1 reason they would change accounting firms is “poor client service, attentiveness” (at 70%). But, accountants rate “poor client service, attentiveness” only at 22%. They worry more about “price, fees, costs, budget (at 63%) and clients dying, or selling or going out of business (at 55%). Sure, cost is a factor to clients (at 63%), but the findings suggest that CPAs should be worrying at least as much about client service as about fees.

If everyone feels responsible to the client, satisfaction improves. Encourage your team to respond effectively to client problems and give them the means to do so. Set and reinforce problem-resolution standards, give employees the freedom to truly resolve client problems.

3. Create client retention plans for key clients. 

Include SMART goals related to the frequency and type of communications, face-to-face client meetings, and events (seminars, webinars, client entertainment). Have the client service team for each client meet to discuss the financial results and challenges of the client, solutions to problems the client may be facing, and how your service can be improved.

4. Ask your clients for feedback. 

The majority of accounting firms do not have a formal program to monitor client satisfaction. A client satisfaction program could include face-to-face interviews, surveys by mail or online, client advisory boards, and events.

5. Be accessible. 

Be available for client meetings. Answer calls and emails promptly. Understand how clients prefer to communicate with you, i.e., in-person, telephone, email, Zoom, text. Use clear, understandable language.

6. Be more proactive. 

Clients score “They might not be proactive enough” as a reason to fire their accounting firm 40% of the time. Only 15% of accountants see it as a reason. This gap is huge! Know your clients’ needs. Provide your clients with valuable resources throughout the year. Spend face time with them outside of tax season.

7. Implement a niche marketing strategy. 

Clients will value working with a team with deep knowledge and expertise in their sector. This will result in sounder advice, and efficient, profitable engagements.

8. Be willing to fire clients. 

The SevenKeys CPA Leaders are five times more likely to fire clients than the SevenKeys CPA Laggards. Bad clients have an impact on profits, productivity, and staffing. Evaluate your client base and determine those clients to transition out, which will free up time to spend with your better clients.

9.   Provide your staff with soft skills training. 

Well-trained workers equal fewer complaints. That means lower costs, and happier customers willing to spend more money and tell their friends about it.

Client retention will also help you with another top issue: employee retention and satisfaction. Customer service expert Shep Hyken says the way employees treat customers often reflects the way they are treated by management. The Employee Golden Rule, as he calls it, is to treat employees the way you want the customer treated – maybe even better.

Do happy employees result in satisfied customers? I believe the answer is “yes.” Studies have shown that companies named to the Customer Service Hall of Fame have a higher rating on Glassdoor than the average rating across all companies.

Satisfied clients lead to loyal clients and happy employees. Don’t wait for the next financial crisis to focus on client retention. It may be too late.

Jean Caragher is president of Capstone Marketing, providing marketing consulting services to accounting firms including Brand Surgery(SM), marketing and strategic planning, Advanced Pricing Methods®, outsourced CMO, merger integration, client satisfaction programs, inbound marketing, and retreat facilitation. For more information contact her at +1 727.210.7306 or