Spoiler: You’re probably CREATING them in the first place
A 5-minute read.
Throughout my years working in the accounting industry, one of the most common questions I’m asked by accountants is, “I have a difficult customer, should I get rid of them?”
If they truly are a pain in the bum client making you no money, my answer would be yes, but that’s never my response. My reply is always, “Are they REALLY a bad client, or are YOU making them bad?”
I then work through a series of logical questions with them, which I’m about to share with you, to reach the decision as to whether they should pull the ‘trap door’ on the client.
Usually, if every question is answered honestly, it’s rare that the trap door lever is reached.
Because most accountants realise they have a certain amount of responsibility to take for the clients’ behaviour in the first place.
And the great thing about that is, as soon as you assume responsibility, you can do something about it to nurture the relationship and make them dream clients.
But the first step, before you take action with your bad clients, is to identify who they are.
Identify your difficult customers
What makes a difficult customer in the accounting industry? Firm owners I’ve spoken to claim they have too many difficult customers who
- don’t pay enough
- don’t see the value in their service
- never pay on time
These factors combined means accountants have to nag to be paid, and paid correctly, and overall makes their lives less joyful.
So, I show them how we graded our clients when I was co-director of successful Manchester based accountancy firm, MAP.
Each client is graded from bronze through to platinum, and that it looked something like the pyramid on the left below.
But what I then explain to these firms, is that they have a model which looks more like the pyramid on the right; lots of bad clients, made of lead, making them no profit at all, sometimes even making them a loss.
They might have some bronze or even silver clients, but they certainly have none of the gold or platinum customers where the real profits lie.
ACTION: Carve some time out with your team to score whether each client on your books is Platinum, gold, silver, bronze, or lead.
Fix the lead making factory
If my guess is right, and the reason you’re reading this is that you have too many difficult ‘lead’ clients you need to get rid of, you’ve probably unknowingly built a ‘bad client making machine.’
Many firms have done this and continued to blame the client rather than fix the machine, so you’re not alone.
Potentially good clients turn up, and then through their initial experiences, the way the firm prices their services, sells their services, takes payment from the client and then onboards that client, turns that potentially gold client into lead.
It’s the opposite of alchemy.
I know this first hand by the way, because I WAS that bad client and on reflection, it’s because of what the firm did (or rather didn’t do) that turned me into one.
If your instinct is to go out and spend money on marketing to attract dream clients, take a step back and see how you can first turn your firm from a lead making factory into a gold one, by improving the client relationships you already have.
How do you create a gold-client factory?
You must create a gold-making factory before you invest in the expense of marketing to attract more clients, otherwise you’re just spending money and time to create more lead (and just to check we’re on the same page, that’s lead, as in the metal, not lead, as in a prospect, aka, potential gold).
ACTION: Ask you and your team these questions and answer as honestly as you possibly can…
Are you wowing your current clients?
You’re not just competing with other accountants, you’r competing with every business interaction that client has. So have you thought about how you stand out from the crowd to really ‘wow’ them from the start?
Here are some tips we’ve seen firms put into practice:
- sending them a video ahead of their meeting with you, to show them how to get to your office
- building a quote right there in front of them with GoProposal, giving full transparency over their fees
- sending them a card to congratulate your yearly work anniversaries
Combining a well systemised onboarding process with little finishing touches that make your client feel special goes a long way.
Could you be doing more for them?
It’s your ethical obligation to offer your clients the highest level of service you can. Don’t presume any service you offer isn’t right for them. If they decide that it isn’t for them, that’s fine, but at least you’ve put to them, everything you can possibly do for them.
Are you solving their biggest problems?
In order to really know that you’re solving their problems, you must take charge of the direction of client meetings with a consultative meeting method. By asking the right questions, you get deeper than the surface information clients will present to you, to understand what problems they really need solving.
The GLOSS Method is a proven framework that aims to do just this, and has been used by accountants the world over.
Do they know everything you do?
A menu-based pricing setup means you can offer them the level of service you would want if you were seeking an accountant for your business. It means you can easily bring to their attention everything you can do there in the meeting.
How can you use this information to make sure you are creating gold clients? Before you even think about trying to attract more clients, you need to ensure your firm:
- Is profitable in the way you price
- Has all clients paying for everything you do
- Provides clients with everything they need (NOT just what they want)
- Delivers great customer experiences
Deal with your ‘difficult customers’ by identifying the ones who aren’t making you money, segregate your current client-base, ask how you can do more for them (& get paid fairly for it!), and ensure you’re pricing model is consistently profitable with GoProposal.
You’ll soon find you’re turning led into gold, and only a small portion of clients will fall through the trap door, while your profits will break the glass ceiling.
Download the flow chart below to help you decide what to do with each difficult customer.