This past year has certainly proven to be a challenge. While marketers and business developers are always focused on managing client expectations, it is particularly important during the pandemic. Continue reading to learn how some of your fellow AAM stepped up to the plate during this incredibly busy time.
Building Client Relationships
After the onset of the pandemic, clients of Johnson Lambert LLP still expected the firm’s partners and staff to make time to build connections and relationships with them. The firm began a client survey program in early 2020. Much of the early feedback was along the lines of, “We would still love to take the time to meet or connect with all of the members of our engagement team, even over Zoom.”
“It is easy to say this pandemic has made people, clients, and prospects feel very far away,” says Courtney Kiss, chief marketing officer, “but I believe there are ways to close that gap without compromising anyone’s health or safety. It is not the type of meeting or event, but to genuinely want to build connections and still demonstrate you care about people, what they are going through, and how you can be part of a supportive network.”
Johnson Lambert acknowledged in-person moments cannot be replaced and saw the need to work harder to show their authenticity. “We coached our people and reminded them when they feel in need of more connections and camaraderie, it’s a good indicator that others may likely feel the same way,” says Kiss. “We are all capable of being the person who makes someone’s day, so why not aim for that.”
The client service staff at Keiter focused on building upon their existing client relationships during the pandemic. While they were not able to meet in person, the virtual meetings took a more concentrated, personal approach. “We encouraged our team to take the time to ask about the clients’ struggles with their businesses,” explains Fonda Lang, marketing, and practice development director, “what they were seeing in the market or industry, how they were approaching PPP, CARES Act, staffing with new Virginia OSHA requirements and, for many, remote virtual learning for their children. This extra time to talk helped to deepen the relationships, identify areas we could assist, and build trust through this challenging time.”
Keeping Clients Informed
CRI realized communication and education was critical and the time between content ideas and go-to-market content had to be a lot shorter. The firm organized internal task force teams to educate and create content on several different COVID topics quickly. Their time from idea creation to published content went from weeks to hours – and what sometimes felt to Cheryl Hunt, partner and director of marketing, like minutes.
The firm developed new short externally facing Quick Hits. “Basically, we took our internal concept of short educational trainings into an external content tool,” explains Hunt. “These were short webinars that did not require much effort to pull together, including five to 10 slides, and we closed each one with questions from the audience.”
CRI went from getting a few hundred people on a full-length webinar prior to COVID to drawing almost 3,000 participants to their Quick Hits. These Quick Hits still prove to be one of the best lead generation tools the firm has ever used. “These sessions are educational, short, no CPE,” Hunt says, “but for clients craving information, it allowed our firm and my team to move quickly from idea to market. We had several occasions where we pushed out a Quick Hit with less than 24 hours notice, and still had a few thousand people register.”
Local chambers, associations, and organizations asked CRI if they could share their Quick Hit registration with their internal audiences. CRI grew its prospect list by thousands of subscribers.
The team at Barnes Dennig was equally busy. “Our clients rely on us to keep them up to date on tax, accounting, business and regulatory issues that could or will impact their companies,” says Chris Perrino, Principal, Business Development. “We did our best to exceed expectations by publishing 80+ blogs, frequent client alert emails (sometimes twice a day), seven webinars and hundreds of one-on-one conversations with clients during the first months of the pandemic. We took our thought leadership to the next level to make sure our clients had the information they needed to figure out how the FFCRA, CARES Act, PPP 1 and 2, and ERTC impacted them.”
Clients also expect their CPAs to be proactive. Austin Associates, PA CPAs added a COVID-19 Resource page to their website within 48 hours of the first tax law change announcement. This resource provides all the changing information around tax laws, deadlines, and loans. They also utilized social media and their monthly newsletters to communicate changes in their office hours and individual office procedures.
“I think the pandemic has taught us that it is okay if we do not have all of the answers,” says Becca Johns, director of practice growth at Rea & Associates, “especially during a time when NO ONE has all of the answers.” Instead, Johns believes clients appreciate knowing we are in their corner and will be alongside them while we figure it out together. Rather than being “subject matter experts,” clients want us to be “subject matter guides.” Open, proactive communication is always important, but even more so now.”
Client Service Via Technology
Austin Associates was primarily paperless prior to the pandemic, offering client portals for document submission, electronic filing, and e-billing. New this year, they now offer SafeSend returns furthering their technological reach. “We just knew it was imperative to operate on the outside as if nothing had changed on the inside,” explains Erica Dostie, client relations and marketing manager, “while taking advantage of every opportunity to improve how we offer our services.”
To comply with the Virginia restrictions that were put in place on March 16, 2020, Keiter closed their office to the public and switched to a no paper policy to protect staff and to add to efficiencies of a remote workforce. They were able to use the secure technologies in place to continue to serve clients through their portals, RightSign, and increased communications. “This change is still in place,” says Lang, “and has flowed through to include our engagement letters, tax organizers, all digital signatures, and document sharing – which has also aided in numerous efficiencies internally.”
Building client relationships, keeping clients informed, being proactive, and enhancing client service with technology are all effective ways to manage client expectations during COVID. Something tells me we will not forget these lessons once we are on the other side of the pandemic.