Accountancy Feature: Online Reviews and Why Accountancy Practices Must Respond
We’re all used to sharing our experiences online – from the restaurants we visit, to the products we buy and the services we procure. Here, Louise Wilson, head of finance sector at Moneypenny shares why online reviews are so very valuable and how accountancy practices can make them work harder for business.
To protect and grow client revenues and cater for the shifting demands of financial consumers – firms find themselves needing to put greater focus on the client experience. Two thirds of firms say they have an actionable plan in place to improve service but in a world where ‘shared experiences’ fill the internet – accountancy practices must acknowledge the power of the customer and their feedback. The drivers for this are almost certainly the shift in the way consumers expect to source a finance professional. The prevalence of digital channels is in part responsible – helped by Covid driving us all online – and we now expect the same level of experience, accessibility and choice from our professional partners, as we do the big brands we buy from.
Why are online reviews important?
While reviews may feel more synonymous with FMCG businesses – they have tremendous value for professional services businesses and their use is already very prevalent. Whether it’s Trustpilot, Google, Yelp or social media clients will be leaving reviews – the question is whether their value is being fully maximised.
Reviews have the power to deliver more work to accountancy practices. They provide transparency of quality, capability, price and a firms’ people. Reviews take some of the ‘unknowns’ out of purchasing decisions and make us feel informed – as if we have the inside track. They help us to compare, make an educated choice and put our trust in that decision.
91% of 18-34 year olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 93% of consumers say that online reviews influence their buying decisions. During 2020, the year of ‘staying at home’, 31% of people said they read and referred to more reviews.
As businesses with portfolios of longstanding existing clients, strengthening these relationships to protect revenue tends to be the priority among accountancy firms. However, it also presents an opportunity for growth, as these firms are built perfectly to scale based on referrals. The satisfaction levels of existing clients can dictate the number of new business recommendations a firm receives and online review portals are the ideal place for clients to act as ambassadors.
There are three steps to harness the power of reviews:
1. Anticipate Making the decision to embrace and encourage reviews requires firms to first ensure they have an appetite to listen and learn and that they have, or are moving to a more client-centric culture. It is particularly useful to anticipate the sort of feedback you might receive – good and bad – so that you can make proactive changes to your approach to client care. A client-centric mindset will help to ensure that their experiences govern your decision making – which in turn will help to deliver a greater number of good reviews. Giving regular attention to how clients are onboarded, the proactivity of client communication, the nature of SLA commitments, response times and accessibility will all help here.
It also provides an opportunity to think about how you may choose to respond to reviews in advance and perhaps even devise an online reviews policy so that it’s clear who can respond to reviews and how they do so, internally. For example, if your practice has felt the effects of being understaffed or a new tech tool is making your VAT processes quicker, these might come through in reviews.
2. Respond The power of reviews is such that they require a response – in three ways. The first is in relation to how each and every client review is handled. Negative reviews are what the industry fears but, when handled properly they needn’t be so damaging. Responding in a friendly human tone (rather than sounding like a formal corporation), showing a desire to make restitution and how improvements will be made, can bring balance to poor reviews. In addition, whether a review is glowing or damning, every single one should be responded to. This provides an opportunity to say thank you for feedback and reiterate important key messages about your approach to client care.
Research suggests that online reviewers expect a response within seven days. This is a further opportunity to engage with that client and for that response to be judged by many more. Failure to respond appropriately – in other words in a measure, professional and friendly way – is an opportunity missed. As 89% of consumers say this actively read businesses’ response to their reviews it’s important to act.
The second aspect of responding is thinking about what happens when a prospective client acts on a positive review and reaches out – perhaps via email, a live chat function or google click to call? Quite simply, they must be met with an equally positive first impression – which means ensuring calls are answer promptly and efficiently, that call backs, quotes and queries are handled quickly and that websites are rich in information and interactivity. Anything less fails to capitalise fully on the power of a good review and could see a new client opportunity wasted.
3. Invite: Once these steps are in place, firms will start to feel more confident to proactively ask for reviews. Inviting people to give feedback and share their experiences not only shows a degree of confidence in service levels and standards, but as the ICEAW said: ’Unless you actively seek our reviews from your clients, those making the effort to post a review will typically be those dissatisfied with the service…”
The increasing use of online reviews presents an opportunity for accountancy practices to interrogate their service levels and look at the client experience as a whole. In doing so they equip themselves with all the ingredients for a glowing endorsement – and plenty of those will make a marked contribution to business development, revenue growth and brand reputation.