going beyond customer service xu magazine article

Business strategy: going beyond customer service

This article was originally published in the latest edition (N° 9) of XU Magazine, the independent magazine for Xero users.

Beyond Accounting actually started life as Finegan Accountants. I founded the company a few years ago under my own name, but when we decided to expand the business, it quickly became apparent that a rebrand would put us on the best footing for future success…

This rebranding happened in late 2015. Far more than just a new logo, the rebrand was part of an ambitious programme of development that went from marketing to systems updates and involved expanding the teams rapidly with qualified accountants, part-qualified accountants and trainees.

A real brand promise

When building the Beyond brand, we decided that it would only work if we really engaged with our clients. I knew from my years in practice that clients really appreciated the personal touch. They valued the fact that I would take the time to explain accounting issues in a plain-English way, or when I showed them an online solution I had seen that would benefit their business. It was these learnings that led to us placing customer partnerships at the heart of everything we did during the transition from Finegan Accountants to Beyond Accounting. It’s something we haven’t stopped doing since.

During the restructuring of the company, Jenny Thornton, a fellow Director, took on the role of Marketing Director. Backed by an external content creation agency and a graphic design company, she set about implementing a comprehensive strategy that encompassed brand identity, brand voice and – most importantly – customer service.

Defining customer point points

Customer service starts from the first contact we have with a new client. To ensure we really understood the customer journey, we mapped every step from the moment the potential client started looking for an accountant to the point they were up and running as a client. Along this timeline we identified touch points – the moments there were likely to be some kind of interaction with the company. These interactions could be anything from filling out a form on our website, to a face to face meeting at our offices.

Through collaborative workshops, we established how we would handle each of these interactions to ensure the best possible customer experience. We thought a lot about the service we delivered at each step along the way, and whether it would be a memorable experience that would make the customer feel valued.

How far do you go?

We came up with a concept called Basic to Beyond. This is an approach that identifies what elements of a service could be considered essential (the Basics) and what additional elements could be offered to really make the customer experience shine (the Beyonds). By going beyond expectations, we can demonstrate our commitment to our clients and strengthen the relationship.

Some examples of this would be responding to an initial query within an hour and not just sometime that same day. When getting ready to meet with a new client to take them through a Xero demo, we customise it with their company name and logo first. Meeting all the basics for each thing still represents great customer service, but by having the Beyonds we can continually aspire to do better. As we’ve found, the little things really do matter!

When any initiative like this is brought in, we back it up with staff training, to ensure everyone is on the same page and working to the same standard. These workshops are also an opportunity to share insights with other team members and brainstorm new ideas.

Monitoring customer satisfaction

Another customer service initiative that we instigated early on, and which we will continue to evolve, was a satisfaction survey. While we could have simply sent out an online questionnaire, we decided to really invest in this valuable source of feedback by conducting a select number of one-to-one interviews with clients. As a young company, we recognised that collecting and acting upon insights like these could have a huge impact on our ability to scale successfully.

Jenny has carried out these surveys through the year, with questions ranging from why the client needed to switch accountants in the first place, to how they feel about our website. The results have been very interesting – highlighting problems that we had never considered, and at the same time reassuring us about things that we anticipated were an issue but in fact aren’t of concern for clients.

Added tools and supports

One issue we were able to identify was that clients felt unsure about the various deadlines that are important to their business – VAT returns, Income Tax filing, Corporation Tax deadlines, etc. In response to this, we created a customised calendar for each client that can be imported into Google Calendar or Outlook. This live calendar shows the dates by which we would complete tasks such as Annual Returns, allowing clients to plan ahead with confidence. Where possible, we would schedule these actions well ahead of the statutory deadline, for added peace of mind.

We also identified that many clients are a little at sea when it comes to accounting terms and practices. In order to demystify this for them, we have created a series of easy to understand guides to make their life easier. We have covered topics such as Income Tax, getting started with Xero, the ins and outs of VAT, PAYE, and everyday accounting terms.

Creating a positive experience

These customer interviews also demonstrated that we are delivering many positive experiences that contribute to an overall very high satisfaction rating. Simple things like being responsive to emails and phone calls, making life simple with good online tools and systems, being friendly and open and doing what we said we will all gave clients a feeling of confidence and control.

Our customer service programme is still in its infancy, and will continue to mature. But we’ve seen it deliver so much already that we have no hesitation in recommending such an approach to other accountancy practices. By retaining our clients, and turning them into ambassadors for our brand, we are securing a bright future for Beyond.

If you run a business and would like some impartial advice from an experienced accountant, I’d be happy to meet you for a coffee. I can also show you a demo of Xero if you’d like to see how it works. To make an appointment, call us on 01 639 2963.

Rory