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How To Set Client Expectations At Your Accounting Firm

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Here is a guest blog for our accountant friends! Written by Morgan Bailey from Hubdoc, this blog discusses how you can set realistic client expectations and create a positive onboarding experience.


As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, so do client expectations and what SMBs expect to get from their accountant or bookkeeper. Firms that work to understand how these expectations are changing, and adjust their processes and workflows accordingly, will set themselves up for long-term success. The results will be positive for both you and your clients: retention, service expansion, and happy parties.

So, how can accounting and bookkeeping practices get a better grasp on changing client expectations? One way is to better understand the client journey and how to set expectations at each stage.

Setting expectations throughout the client journey

A popular misconception about expectation setting is that it’s mostly done at the beginning of a client’s journey with your accounting or bookkeeping firm. While there is certainly a need for proactive expectation setting during initial conversations with prospects and clients, consistently maintaining expectations throughout the entire journey is key to successful growth.

Client needs – and therefore, expectations – evolve as they make their way through their journey as a customer of your firm. This journey has several distinct stages: acquisition, onboarding, ongoing services, and retention and expansion.

At each stage, there must be clear expectation setting to ensure a positive experience. Let’s take a look at each stage and how to include expectation setting as part of your workflow.

Acquisition: setting the tone

Expectation setting starts long before a prospect begins an engagement with your firm. Marketing images, website content, and other collateral gives prospects an idea about your firm and what they might expect should they become clients. If your website showcases various accounting technology certifications, for example, visitors will start conversations with the hope that you have expertise using these types of tools.

A few ways you can ensure you’re effectively setting expectations during the acquisition stage of the client journey include:

  • Determine your ideal client – Determine the types of businesses you want to work with (i.e., your target audience or “ideal customer profile”) and ensure your marketing activities are optimized to reach them. Use language, images, formats, and tactics that would best attract this type of client.
  • Document your services and support packages – If you define your services clearly and with purpose, you’ll help set expectations without directly setting them. Documenting what you deliver (both service and support) will not only make it easier to set expectations regarding your deliverables to clients, but will also help you deliver them (and control costs).
  • Use effective engagement letters – In addition to legally defining your terms of service, an effective engagement letter will also serve as a reference point for ensuring that the original engagement terms are consistently met. As a result, you’ll mitigate risk and demonstrate a high degree of professionalism from the get-go.

Onboarding: laying the groundwork

Onboarding is a notoriously challenging process. Even if you’re working with clients who are the ideal fit for your firm, they can often feel overwhelmed, nervous, or stressed about putting so much trust and financial data in your hands so early on in your relationship.

The onboarding stage involves the most active expectation setting, especially with regard to how your firm handles communication, support, workflow, information transfer, and technology.

The following tactics will help to ensure you’re effectively setting expectations during onboarding:

 

  • Standardise your process – As a highly repetitive process, standardising onboarding will help to improve efficiency at your practice. Sharing a standard onboarding plan with your clients will also enable them to easily understand the “who, what, where, when, and why” of your onboarding activities, encouraging accountability on both ends.
  • Level-set during each step – To avoid “back and forth” client communication, or unnecessary information gathering, create a mutual understanding regarding communication and support, the technologies and workflows you’ll be using, and how deliverables will be tracked.
  • Get insight into your clients’ goals – Expectation setting goes both ways. Onboarding is also a critical period during which clients share what they expect from you, and what they hope your services will help them achieve. Understanding their goals and discussing your services in relation to those goals will help you to better position your value. Onboarding is a great time to confirm and elaborate on your client’s objectives and to determine a framework for measuring success. In turn, you’re setting the foundation for a mutually prosperous relationship.

Ongoing Services: maintaining expectations & open communication

Although you’ll lay much of the groundwork for how you and your clients will work together during onboarding, expectation setting should continue as your client transitions to your monthly services.

At this stage, expectation setting mostly occurs through regular channels of communication:

  • Continue to level-set and provide the opportunity for feedback – Regularly check-in with clients on response times, technology use, new features, terms of engagement, etc.
  • Keep your clients in the loop – Introducing additional communication channels with your clients is a great way to keep them engaged, as well as send general reminders, updates, or changes that help manage expectations. Consider sending out a regular newsletter or video update in which you provide insights about your firm, your team, and your industry.

The end result: retention, loyalty & expansion

Clients chose to work with your firm for a reason: you provide a service they need. As you deliver monthly services, consistent expectation setting allows you to maintain good working relationships with both high and low demand clients. These strong relationships will keep clients with your firm, generate referrals, and can grow the services you provide to clients.

If you’re able to proactively set and evaluate expectations throughout the entire client journey, retention won’t be something you consciously think about – it will happen naturally! By consistently setting the right expectations at the right time, your firm can ensure positive and long-lasting relationships.

For more information about successful expectation setting, review Hubdoc’s free checklist: Setting Expectations at Every Stage of the Client Journey.  


Morgan is Content Marketing Specialist at Hubdoc. He is a graduate of University of Toronto and has a Postgraduate Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College. Morgan is an avid coin collector and always enjoys learning about coins from around the world.

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