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How satisfied are your clients?

Author: Professional Standards Department

Published: 11 Aug 2022

Finding out what clients think about your firm helps you improve your services, address any problems early on, and build better relationships. One way of doing this is to carry out regular client satisfaction surveys. We look at why client feedback is so important and provide some tips on how to gather useful data.

A client satisfaction survey offers a simple and direct way to obtain and assess information from clients about how well they think your firm is doing its job.

Accountancy practices typically have close relationships with their clients, so you might think you already know who is happy, who has a problem, or who would like more support. But while client feedback from day-to-day interactions is crucial, it also has its limitations; it can be influenced by existing relationships, a specific issue or even lack of time,

Where client satisfaction surveys come into their own is in providing feedback based on standard questions across a firm’s client base. This not only gives clients the opportunity to comment outside routine business interactions, but also allows you to look at trends, track progress and benchmark your firm’s performance.

Client satisfaction surveys can also be effective business development tools, helping firms learn more about what their clients expect, want and need.

“Measuring client satisfaction can help businesses pinpoint what they’re doing well or badly, inform the development of new customer approaches and, crucially, monitor the impact of any initiatives introduced to improve the customer experience,” explains James Murray, director at market research firm OMB Research, which produces ICAEW’s Probate Diversity Report.

“There are also softer benefits associated with clients feeling that they are listened to and their opinions are valued, which can ultimately improve customer loyalty and retention,” he adds.

Retaining clients is far less costly than acquiring new ones, and existing clients can also help you generate new business. Word of mouth recommendations are a mainstay of new referrals for all types of firm.

Show you care

Client satisfaction surveys come in a variety of forms but if you want any survey to yield useful data, there are a few key steps you need to take:

  • explain to clients exactly why they are being asked for their feedback and how their responses will be used to improve their experience;
  • think carefully about what questions you ask and why you want the answers to these;
  • keep the survey short, and make it easy to complete and return; and
  • tell clients how you have acted on their feedback.

A well-designed and executed survey can do two important things: show you care about clients’ current experiences, and give you grass-roots, practical information about how to optimise their experience in future.

Surveys tap into the fact that most people want their opinions heard and to feel they are being listened to. So it’s important that you communicate why and how you will be gathering information, and that you have listened, responded and acted where necessary.

“It’s vital that customer research is not just treated as a ‘tick box’ exercise,” emphasises Murray. “The real value lies in listening to feedback and taking action to address it – whether this be improving client communications, developing customer-driven approaches and services, or following up with specific clients to address any concerns raised.”

Who, when, where

The specific practicalities of carrying out a survey will depend on factors such as your business needs, its size and structure, its client base, and the resources allocated.

At one end of the scale, you could employ a third party organisation to carry out telephone or video interviews with your clients. The advantages here are that the feedback isn’t influenced by who is asking the questions, and you will arguably get better insights than those elicited from online or paper surveys.

Less resource intensive options might be to send a link to an online survey, or to post a paper survey (perhaps alongside an invoice) together with a postage paid envelope to make it easy to return. If you are unsure about what to include in your survey, ICAEW can provide a simple template to download.

Alternatively, you could ask three or four prepared questions when you next meet with a client. Again, the data might be richer and more detailed in this face-to-face context, but it might also be more difficult to obtain truly open and honest feedback.

“The organisations we work with monitor client satisfaction in a variety of ways, but emailing a link to an online survey is often the quickest and easiest approach,” says Murray. “The surveys can consist of just two to three questions on the overall experience or can include more detailed ratings for different service aspects.”

“It’s also good practice to include an ‘open’ question to allow customers to give feedback in their own words,” he adds. This means clients can raise issues you might not have thought of, or flag areas that are of specific concern to them.

To get a rounded view of what clients think, seek responses from across your client base. This should include existing clients (small and large), new clients, and even lapsed clients. If you are too narrow with your sample, you risk failing to uncover underlying issues in specific areas of the firm’s work. You could also be overlooking the growth potential in what is now a small client, simply because you neglected to engage with them.

When analysing responses, consider individual views, as well as replies across the board and over time. For example, you could produce summaries every six months and then compare these to identify trends, what has – or has not – improved, and what your firm can do to address any ongoing problems.

Best practice

As part of its Practice Assurance (PA) review process, ICAEW recommends its regulated firms obtain client feedback as a way of improving their service and interaction with clients, and picking up early signs of client dissatisfaction.

After each PA visit, reviewers provide firms with important reminders and areas of best practice. This includes that feedback can be obtained “through discussions with the client, which could be led by an independent principal, or by asking them to periodically complete a survey”. It adds: “We suggest you share relevant feedback with all principals and the engagement team. You may wish to produce an annual summary to share with all staff.”

ICAEW’s Quality Assurance Department (QAD) also conducts its own client satisfaction surveys. After each monitoring review visit, firms and insolvency practitioners are asked to complete an anonymous survey, providing feedback on the review process, the quality of the interaction and the support provided.

These survey responses are collated and analysed by SwissPeaks, an independent research agency, which then produces a quarterly report for QAD to use to support the continuous improvement of its monitoring processes and procedures.

Shaping your business

“Collecting feedback through instruments like surveys allows for a key indirect contact point between client and supplier,” says Andy Madeley, market research and data management expert at SwissPeaks.

“On the whole, we find clients are open and extremely informative about their likes, dislikes and insights,” he adds. “Surveys are great information gathering tools to have at your disposal and, from my experience, help shape a company.”

At its core, a client satisfaction survey is simply a way for your firm to say: ‘Thank you for your valued and continuing business; please tell us how we can do even better in the future.’


Benefits of client satisfaction surveys

Client satisfaction surveys can help your firm:

  • improve its understanding of clients and their needs
  • assess its strengths and weaknesses
  • uncover individual or collective client problems before it’s too late
  • identify areas for improvement, and training needs for your team
  • stay ahead of market trends and identify new business opportunities
  • monitor the impact of new initiatives designed to improve client experience