As a marketing consultant who works with high-growth accounting firms, I hear the term “client
experience” or CX for short, with increasing regularity. While 5 years ago this term was little
known or understood, our profession has quickly come to see that CX can be a strategic
differentiator in a crowded, competitive marketplace. High-growth professional services firms
are investing in CX at an unprecedented pace, despite economic instability. Take, for example,
the newly formed firm, FORVIS, that built their entire brand around the idea of CX:
FORVIS was created by the merger of equals between BKD and DHG. We now have the scale and
scope of a dynamic, top 10 public accounting firm—but we’ll continue our legacy of Unmatched Client
ExperiencesTM with remarkable care, expertise, and drive.
What is CX, exactly?
Client experience is the sum of all the touchpoints a firm has with a prospect or client over the
lifetime of the relationship. This means that CX encompasses everything from how the phone is
answered, how work is scoped and delivered, to how invoices are prepared and sent. Whether
your clients receive industry-focused newsletters or invitations to lunch is all a part of their client
CX is often conflated with client service, but they are not one and the same. Client service is
what a provider does, and CX is how the client feels. As an example, after tax season, my
accountant sends me an invoice for the services provided. Imagine, now, that she includes a
handwritten note that says “Thanks for continuing to trust in me. I enjoy working with you every
year and look forward to helping you again next year.” What’s the difference? In the first
example, I feel like I’m receiving an invoice – not a particularly pleasant experience, especially if
the fees have creeped up since last year. In the second example, I receive the invoice with a
warm and friendly tone and I can’t help but smile as I process the invoice. See how a little
gesture can make a big impact?
Now let’s go one step further. My hypothetical accountant knows that finances this year are
particularly tight and proactively offers to spread out my fees across a longer time horizon
without an explicit request. This is a huge value driver for me as a client. CX can be improved
when relationships are genuine, providers are empathetic, and personalized consideration and
value is offered up, in addition to the deliverables included in the scope of work. Unfortunately,
in many cases, providers simply don’t have the time, training, or empathy to go the extra mile to
“surprise and delight” their clients on an ongoing basis.
Creating a CX program
To help foster that level of care, an increasing number of accounting firm leaders are investing
in CX programs. CX programs are a bit like old family recipes. They can include a variety of
ingredients in varying amounts to best support the unique values of each firm. Here are a few
examples of “ingredients” that you may wish to consider including in your program:
- Client feedback programs, including NPS tracking
- Client journey mapping exercises
- Proactive service recovery
- Individual client development plans
- Formalized new client onboarding programs
- Key account programs
- Training and skill development
- Regular client roundtables or panel discussions
- Client advisory boards
- Advanced pricing options during the sales cycle
- Rewards and incentives tied to strong CX behaviors
- Governance and leadership focused on CX, including dedicated staffing
- Centralized billing
- Client dashboards, portals, or apps
- Data analysis and predictive strategy, driven by CX indicators
Why every firm should invest in CX
Regardless of what you include in your “recipe,” it’s important to remember the inherent value of
having a CX program. Great CX leads to happy, repeat clients and positively impacts the bottom
line. Here are just a few reasons-to-believe as you get started:
- CX drives the buying decision: Nearly 90% of buyers say the experience a company delivers matters as much as its products or services (Salesforce)
- CX drives loyalty: over two-thirds of customer loyalty is tied to CX, which represents more than brand and price combined (Gartner, via CMSWire)
- Clients will pay more for strong CX: 61% of consumers will pay at least 5% more if they know they’ll get a good customer experience (Emplifi)
Three ways to get started
Now that you’re on board with the idea of investing in your firm’s client experience, here are
three suggestions for how to get started.
(1) Leadership buy-in and setting the strategy
First, you will need to spread the gospel and gain the buy-in of your firm’s leadership.
Educate your leadership team on the value of CX, sharing articles and insights from key
players in the CX field. I have personally learned a ton by attending CXps, an annual
conference focused on client experience for professional services firms like ours. As a
part of the process of getting leadership buy-in, ask them what elements are important to
them. Brainstorm together as a group and then try to identify no more than 3 key
strategies for focus. Try to ensure that client feedback is at the top of the list for your
strategy so that you have a continuous feedback loop for any service improvements you
may deploy as a part of your CX program. It will help to have a concrete “ask”: I suggest
getting approval for a 2-year initial program, including budget approval, so that you have
the time and investment needed to test and iterate new ideas.
(2) Draft a 2-year roadmap
Once you have your leaders on board with your strategy, you can create a 2-year
roadmap to tie your tactics to your 3-part strategy within the approved budget. Also,
don’t forget to gather CX champions, communicate your efforts, and celebrate your
successes as you go.
(3) Taking the first step
Getting started is often the most daunting part, so I encourage you to start small. Ask
your top clients to help provide feedback, either in an interview or survey format.
According to Gartner research, companies that collect and analyze customer feedback
are more successful in implementing CX projects. Whether you use a web form or a Net
Promoter Score (NPS) program, capturing qualitative as well as quantitative feedback
can be a never-ending treasure trove of ideas for service improvement projects. But
keep in mind that all feedback is a gift — even the negative feedback. If you ask for
feedback, you’ll need to be prepared to act swiftly on it to demostrate commitment to the
Good luck in launching your firm’s CX program! It’s not always an easy process, but it’s very
rewarding when you can see the fruits of your labors in concrete terms — shorter sales cycles,
higher win rates, lower client churn, and increased cross selling revenue.
Alyson Fieldman is a seasoned marketing professional with over 20 years in professional services marketing. She works as a consultant with high-growth professional services firms to achieve their strategic, marketing, business development, and client/employee experience goals.
Alyson can be reached at [email protected]