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Do you know what really matters to your clients? It sounds like a stupid question, right? Your clients obviously come to you because they need you to deliver a specific service.

If you're good at what you do, you'll deliver that service and satisfy your client's needs, resulting in a happy customer. But what if your client needs or wants more? What if they, or other potential clients, could benefit from something else entirely?

When we're busy and our resources are stretched, it's easy to focus on getting tasks done – to deliver the service we've promised – rather than thinking about why someone is using that service in the first place.

Accountants who make the effort to carve out time to consider what's going on in their clients' worlds, and what matters to them most, reap benefits, from identifying ways to up their service levels or improve their marketing to generating ideas for entirely new client offers.

Here are three very different methods that can help reveal what’s really on your clients' minds:

1. Talk to your clients regularly

Communication is, of course, a key skill for accountants. Communicating with your clients regularly and clearly is one of the ways accountants forge effective client-relationships and build trust.

However, if most of your communication is limited to a certain time of year, or if you primarily communicate by email, you're missing a trick. By all means, use email for sharing information or updates but, in addition, take the time to have conversations with your clients at regular intervals.

Talking – in person or on the 'phone – gives you the chance to chat informally about how things are going. By doing this you might find out more about a client's business, their worries or their aspirations. This might then help you identify opportunities to provide additional financial or strategic advice this client and others like them. Alternatively you might glean some insight into how to promote or enhance the services you already deliver.

Aside from regular 'check-in' calls, you could consider hosting events that allow you to spend time with clients in an informal atmosphere, providing more opportunities to get to know them better.

2. Empathy mapping

As you get to know your clients better, empathy mapping can be a useful tool to help you imagine what a client's life is really like. It encourages you to think beyond the service you are providing and to consider what else is going on in a client's world, from the people they connect with to the activities they spend time on.

After considering what clients do and say, empathy mapping asks you to identify what a client fundamentally needs, wants and hopes for. So, for instance, a small business owner employing an accountant to manage their taxes may, deep down, need the confidence that they are doing everything that is required of them as a business owner, want to save as much time as possible, so they keep their work-life balance in check, and hope to be financially secure.

Finally, the process of empathy mapping identifies the obstacles to achieving these needs, wants and hopes. That's where you come in, because you may well be able to offer services that help your clients overcome these obstacles.

3. Journey mapping

While empathy mapping looks at the client as a holistic individual, who has various demands and experiences beyond their relationship with you, journey mapping focuses on a particular experience. It is a tool that can help you appreciate what it is like to be one of your own clients.

One area where journey mapping can be particularly useful is in tracking how clients find, evaluate and start working with you. Or, indeed, how and when clients make a decision not to work with you.

Imagine you are a typical prospective client, someone who’s looking for an accountant for a specific purpose. What's their first step in finding one? Perhaps they ask a few trusted contacts, perhaps they put out a call for recommendations on social media or perhaps they turn to Google. Are they likely to encounter you or your organisation through any of these activities?

If they end up with a number of different suggestions, what do they do next? They probably visit your website to find out more. If so, what pages might they decide to click on? What information will they find there? How easy is it to find useful information on your site? What happens if they decide to contact you? What might engage, or frustrate, them at this stage? If they were to look at other accountants' websites, how would yours compare?

And so on... Working through an entire journey like this from a client's perspective helps you identify the sort of information you need to provide, where best to deliver it and how best to present it. For instance, you might realise that you need to spend more time in relevant groups on social media, so you are present when people are asking for accountant recommendations. Or you might realise that your website could be more effectively structured using jargon-free terminology that makes sense to prospective clients.

Each of these strategies gives you some insight into how your clients think and feel, which should help you support them in achieving their hopes and dreams. Embedding approaches like this in your work will help to transform your business into a customer-centric organisation, one that attracts and retains more clients than firms that don’t have a focus on the client experience.

Anna Faherty is an author for accountingcpd. To see her courses, click here.

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