Client relations and cost cutting top priorities for accountants

Strengthening client service is the biggest priority for accountancy firms in 2021, despite plans to reduce head count, according to research from outsourced communication provider Moneypenny

The Future Focus report, which identifies the overarching priorities for UK accountancy firms over the next 12 months, surveyed 250 senior decision makers and found that 38% of firms are committed to strengthening client relationships and two thirds have an actionable plan in place.

Planned strategies to improve client relationships include increasing proactive account management (38%), increasing the speed with which client queries are handled (38%), improving client call handling (36%), offering complementary services to clients (35%) and using client-facing software (33%).

The report also revealed that cost cutting is the second largest priority for 32% of firms, followed by new business growth at 24%.

Four in 10 (39%) of those focused on cost cutting will do so by reducing head count through furlough or more permanent measures, 37% will delay or pull back capital expenditure spending, 35% will introduce cost saving measures and 34% will use outsourced partners to deliver services more efficiently.

Against a sector wide focus on client care, this could present a worrying picture and a ‘client care blackspot’ according to Moneypenny, whose research also shows that 68% of firms still do not answer all inbound calls and 29% do not consider their website an important communications channel.

Louise Wilson, head of the finance sector at Moneypenny said: ‘It’s encouraging that so many firms are prioritising client care, but for those also looking to reduce costs and in particular head count, this will be especially difficult. It could cause a huge client care blackspot. 

‘Communication is the cornerstone of the client experience and it’s closely tied to new client growth too. If calls go unanswered, websites don’t provide a viable alternative and there are fewer people in house to notice – firms could well lose the revenue they told us they’re so keen to protect and grow.’

Figures from Moneypenny reiterate the telephone’s position as the most important channel for business communication across all sectors - with 56% of UK companies citing it as the principle channel to converse with clients.

Wilson added: ‘If client care is the biggest priority, firms must always be accessible which means ensuring that every client interaction is handled efficiently and professionally, whether it’s over the phone or via a website tool like live chat.’

The Future Focus report also looked at firms’ approach to marketing and new client growth. Findings include:

•            firms with 500+ employees are almost twice as likely to list strengthening client care compared to smaller firms (250 employees and less);

•            firms in in Wales, the North West and the West Midlands are more focused on client care;

•            southern firms are more focused on finding cost savings than their northern counterparts;

•            larger firms, those with 250-500 employees, are more likely to focus on offering complementary services (47% compared with the  35% average for all other firms) as well as improving the way  inbound calls from clients are answered (47% compared with an average 32% for firms under 250 employees);

•            firms in the west Midlands are least focused on new business while firms in the south east and south west are the most likely to focus on securing cost savings;

•            firms based in the south east, the north east and the east Midlands are most likely to lean on outsourcing partners to drive efficiencies; and

•            a quarter of firms are planning to grow their practice through new client revenue using social media (37%), referrals (36%), increased business development (36%), increased marketing (35%) and use of promotions (33%).

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