When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most staff at accounting and advisory firms – and the staff of their clients – packed up and went home. For the firms, however, business didn’t stop or even slow down. In fact, clients needed more services and guidance from their advisors than ever. How and where accountants and advisors did their work and client relationship management changed radically and quickly, with nearly all interactions shifting from face-to-face to virtual.
More than a year later, while client relationship management and business development partners are excited about the prospect of heading back to in-person client meetings, there’s still a need for and an interest in a paradigm of hybrid communications that will define the new normal.
Business developers are finding new ways to blend the digital approach with the personal touch of a handshake — all the while ensuring everyone feels safe and respected.
Information, Information, Information
“My client relationship cycle was unchanged for decades,” said Lee M. Cohen, founder and managing partner of LM Cohen & Company in New York City. “I’d meet with clients to plan the work; then I’d finish a project and schedule an in-person meeting to develop a plan for implementation. What changed during COVID-19? Everything. It was insane.”
Cohen said his clients needed “information, information, information,” including constant updates on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and other stimulus offerings.
“It got to the point that it made good business sense not to bill clients for our work helping them with PPP loan applications,” he said. “The flow of information from us turned into a continuous flood.”
To find a way to stay in front of clients, Cohen held a series of socially distanced outdoor meetings at his home.
“What we gained by meeting in person was invaluable and has carried through into how we conduct business today,” he said.
A New Client Relationship Management Reality
For Andrew Sledd and Amy Menafee, partners at Keiter, based in Glen Allen, VA, the demands of audits made it clear they had to get in front of their clients.
“We had an audit close down halfway through,” Menafee said. “Fortunately, MS Teams had already been installed, so I reached out to my client to establish new rules of the road that will very likely carry through and become our new hybrid procedure.”
Read more about how firms are forging new ways to manage client relationships in the “new normal” Fall 2021 issue of Growth Strategies. You can also learn about Client Opportunity Plans and how they can help move new opportunities forward in our latest blog.
About Richard Shippee
Richard is an independent consultant working with the Whitman Business Advisors team who provides Marketing and Corporate Communication services to accounting firms and other professional services companies.