Client feedback: A matter of opinion

Now more than ever, companies are pushing their accountants hard to
demonstrate value for money in the services they provide. The business
environment is more complex, the economy has shrunk and there is less new work
to go around, so client retention is critical. Firms cannot afford to lose any
clients whether big or small.

To this end, formal client feedback research is crucial to give clients an
appropriate forum to raise and discuss any service issues they have, so firms
can address the concerns quickly.

Professional services clients who are not asked to participate in a feedback
exercise are up to five times more likely to fall into the ‘danger zone’ of
scoring six or less out of ten for overall satisfaction. Clients who do fall
into the ‘danger zone’ are far more likely to consider switching providers
(according to findings from Acritas’ Sharp Accountancy Brands and Sharp Legal
Brands studies).

Stay close

The data also revealed that clients who have been asked to give formal
feedback tend to rate their relationship with their most-used firm more highly,
believe it has a better understanding of their strategic needs and have higher
levels of trust in the firm.

Even a low cost, simple, multiple choice postal questionnaire or web survey,
which can be administered in house, goes some way to showing the client that you
are interested in their opinions and value them as a client. Asking questions
gives clients the opportunity to tell you about additional requirements they
have and these gems help get internal buy-in for a client feedback programme.

Getting close to clients when times are tough and providing ‘added value’ in
addition to existing business advisory services is sure to reap benefits when
companies recover.

Gathering feedback

Using a third party research provider to perform interviews allows for an
independent body, experienced in extracting real depth of insight, which is
unemotional and unbiased. Interviews can also be carried out by fully trained
internal individuals.

Which clients?

Generally firms tend to focus client feedback programmes on those who
generate the most fees. This is certainly a good place to start but it is
important to gain feedback from a wide range of clients. You should also aim to
make the interviews as representative as possible of your client base, so if the
majority of your clients are manufacturing businesses this industry sector
should be the main focus.

It is important to get a cross section of clients using different service
lines, such as audit, tax, advisory services, and corporate finance. The
research needs to be representative of your firm and the clients using single
and multi services from you.

Topics to address:

KPIs: these may include satisfaction, likelihood to
recommend, future use or other measures; improvements on these can be tracked

Other service attributes: ask respondents to rate your
performance in specific areas such as accessibility, efficiency, and technical
competence. Using statistical procedures, such as factor and regression
analysis, in combination with your KPIs, will allow you to determine which
aspects of service are the strongest drivers of satisfaction, recommendation
etc. You can then identify the factors to focus on in order to achieve the
greatest benefits.

How to improve: what needs to be done to increase
satisfaction and to win more business and what to focus on in the future.

Ideally, you would seek feedback from all clients, but budgetary and resource
constraints often mean this is not practical. When deciding the optimal number
of interviews to carry out, there are two main considerations:

Overall statistical robustness:this is important for
accurately tracking changes and benchmarking performance year-on-year.

Cutting the data: if you want to compare responses from
clients in different industry sectors, geographic locations, or purchasing
different services, you need to make sure you carry out enough interviews in
each group.

Listening to clients is crucial as firms continue to compete in tough
economic conditions. The firms that emerge as the winners will be those that
seek client feedback, digest that information and use that to improve their

Lucy Leach is an account manager and lead analyst at Acritas

Case Study: BDO Stoy Hayward

BDO Stoy Hayward’s client listening programme, introduced in 2003,
demonstrates its commitment to prioritising client service. Acritas conducts
interviews throughout the year on behalf of the firm, including relationship
reviews by telephone and web surveys to gain feedback from both ongoing and
transactional clients. In recent years, the scope of the research has also been
expanded to cover interviews with other firms BDO works closely with, in order
to add a referrer perspective to the results.

In the past five years more than 2,000 interviews have been conducted with a
selection of clients, generating a clear understanding of how BDO is performing
in its clients’ eyes and enabling continual improvement in the service it

The findings are fed back at multiple levels, delivering optimal return on
investment. Individual interview reports of attributable clients are circulated
to relevant partners to inform client contact, account planning and future
activity. Below a specified satisfaction score, partners are required to take
direct action.

The firm benefits from an independent review which enables partners to pick
up on small ‘niggles’ before they become major issues, ultimately improving
client retention.

Collated findings are fed back at firm-wide level to inform strategic
development and performance monitoring and to drive business planning and client
service initiatives.

The latest innovation to the programme is the development of a loyalty model,
making use of factor and regression analysis and data from other research
conducted for the firm to deliver a unique understanding of client retention and

Analysing data in this way allows the firm to identify key areas in which to
focus its efforts in order to improve quality of service and subsequently client
retention and profitability.

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