I believe that customer service should be the heart of every business. If you had no customer, your business would seize to exist right? I am writing from my perspective as a service based provider & do hope you find some points of reference to apply in your business on your road to creating the ultimate client experience for your business!
SETUP AND USE A CRM (CLIENT RELATIONSHIP MANAGER)
This was by far the best investment I made in terms of money well spent but also standardising all of my documents in one universal place. My preferred software is www.dubsado.com.
All my client information is captured in one place & I make use of mapped fields as far as possible to make sure that information pulls through to all the subsequent forms I create and send to clients.
From the get-go I fill in as much detail as I can find on my prospective client from their email signature, website or any other social media platform, on the client’s profile in Dubsado. You want to have all the details ready in one place but also want to minimise any future details you request (and possibly re-request) from your client, hence the extensive mapping of all of the fields. People are paying you for your service, don’t make them work hard!
I love the fact that every email and every form where documents was uploaded or information supplied, is all in one place. No more searching your outbox because your client is adamant that they already sent you whatever you’re asking for. Less frustration for everyone.
INCLUDE YOUR T’S + C’S WITH YOUR PROPOSAL/QUOTE
I include all of my T’s and C’s as well as service guide/office policies with my initial quote. I believe being upfront with your full offering and any limitations saves you heaps of frustrations later on. This way your prospective client can make a truly informed decision before you onboard them with any possible expectations not being met afterwards.
SEND A WELCOME EMAIL
Yay, you have just received a notification that your client has accepted their quotation and now the real magic can start.
Firstly I would send an email expressing your excitement to work with the new client, what documents to expect next and a quick look at the timeline involved with the job you’re about to start. Don’t overload them with information, just a clear summary shaping a valid expectation.
FINALISE SIGNING OF YOUR CONTRACT
Once a quote has been accepted I send a digital contract that the client must sign. This is something that most creatives neglect for far too long. If you truly cannot afford to have a lawyer draw these up for you, ask permission to copy a similar service provider’s and make sure it covers all of your bases. Think of anything and absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong and make sure you update the document as hiccups arise in your processes.
CUSTOMIZE THEIR WORKFLOW
Start by creating a template for all the steps in every offering you have. Mine would look something like this for client on a monthly contract:
- Monthly request for client’s bank statements, customer invoices and all other accounting docs
- Monthly processing and reconciliation of client’s accounts
- Draft and send monthly financial update report to client
- Quarterly meeting agenda
- Bi-annual provisional tax process
- Annual income tax process
Use words like ‘monthly’ and ‘annual’ and add dates if it is pre-defined. Elaborate on where your client’s input will be required and the timeframe in which you’ll need specific input. Some people are very easy going and might not want to have all of this information, but others want to remain in control of what is expected of them when and how to follow the steps in the process where they’re possibly not involved.
CREATE THEIR PRIVATE PORTAL
Dubsado allows access to each of your clients to their portal. This means that they can log in and would be able to view all of the documents filled out to date, see a copy of each email sent, access their contract and have a look at their workflow. Each client is only able to see their own information & has their own login details. I think this is a special extra which could potentially also save your client time in terms of searching through their own inboxes.
AUTOMATE THE INVOICING & PAYMENT PROCESS
I do not use Dubsado’s invoicing process simply because I prefer to have all of my accounting records in one place and that preferred place for me is Xero. The next step for me would be to create and send a client’s invoice. For clients that signed up for a retainer fee I create recurring invoices in Xero. This means that I tell Xero on exactly which date in each month I want that invoice to be sent to my client, what the payment terms are (due 5 days after the invoice date for example) and the tailored message that must go with their invoice as well as for what period that recurring invoice must be repeated.
My monthly retainer fee clients pay through an automatic scheduled payment system which I do through PayFast. Just like I created the repeating invoices for a client I setup the scheduled payment system which is sent to the client requesting them to pay the first retainer fee by credit card after which the payments will go off that credit card on a set date for each of the months that the retainer is valid. No more late payments or begging for money that a busy client has simply forgotten to pay. Less frustration for you and less frustration and effort for them.
For the clients that are not on retainers, an invoice is sent from Xero manually. This lands in their inbox and opens up online where they can view or download the invoice. I include a ‘Pay Now’ button to my invoices which is an integration between Xero and PayFast which enables my client to pay their invoice upon receipt with their credit card details. Although the fees are relative high I believe any feature that you can add to make the life of your client easier, is worth it!
The last invoicing note that I would like to mention is that I setup automatic invoice reminders. This means that I need to mark an invoice as paid on the date that I receive payment in Xero, and if you are not going to be doing this process daily then I would not go ahead and add invoice reminders. Invoice reminders can be edited from templates that Xero provide and you can also choose the reminder terms.
The first point of call for me is to make sure your due dates on your invoices are realistic. As much as it would be lovely if everyone was glued to their computer, constantly logged into their online banking to pay you as soon as they receive your invoice, that is just not the case for most of us. I set my initial invoices with a due date of 5 days after the invoice date. To get back to the invoice reminders, I then set invoice reminders for one day after the invoice was due, a second reminder if the invoice is still outstanding 7 days after the due date and a final reminder 14 days after the invoice was due. These are all setup to send automatically. That is why I say that you have to be in control of the process of marking your invoices as paid as it happens, otherwise your reminders might be sent to a client who has already paid you – big no-no!
I love automation and using automated features to help take my time out of a process that can run itself!
ALWAYS THANK THEM FOR PAYMENTS RECEIVED
Have you ever had to save for quite some time to afford the services of the best in some industry, secretly so proud of yourself for being able to afford the service you just decided on and then paying this massive amount over to a supplier and then nothing… never mind a ‘Thanks for your hard earned money, be sure that you’re in good hands’, but not even a ‘Thank you for your payment’? It’s happened to me so many times and it’s quite a disappointment!
Once I see the payment reflecting in my business account, I log into Xero to mark that invoice as paid and then send a receipt for the payment received straight out of Xero with a template thank you message already set up and I tailor it just a bit especially if it was a big payment received.
This being said, if you’re invoicing B2B clients, and your message will be going to an accounts department and not to the person who requested the service in the first place, either edit the recipient to be the person who you were serving or consider whether it is necessary to send a thank you note at all.
PUT TOGETHER A WELCOME PACK
Being a service-based business I always used to envy the incredible packaging, hand-written notes and other special features that I got when ordering something from an online store of a creative. That feeling of being called by your name does wonders for making you feel special and that your purchase is appreciated and seen as supporting local.
Well, a welcome pack. I buy some pretty boxes (which I’m hoping to have branded soon) and include a copy of my welcome letter, my resume, a hand-written thank you note, a copy of our contract, my office policies, a pretty timeline of when to expect what in terms of workflow, some business cards, my referral guide and lastly I include something of value. I have spent a lot of time making these documents as pretty as possible using my amazing brand-guide that my graphic designer supplied and print them on premium paper in full colour. A little extra goes a long way in terms of brand experience which goes hand in hand with a great client experience.
BUILD ON YOUR EXCITEMENT
So now what? You’ve spent quality time automating your processes making sure that your client’s input is kept to an absolute minimum in terms of filling in document and adding admin to their busy lives… You’ve gone out of your way to make them feel valued and special, what could you possibly do to put a cherry on the cake?
I like to have a ‘new client feature’ on social media. I share the excitement of signing my newest client by featuring them on my social media platforms. This might seem unnecessary and do make sure you have their permission to do so before shouting their names from your rooftops, but I find it adds value to the clients that like that extra attention and possible exposure to a network they would otherwise not have been exposed to.
Be sure to subscribe to my mailing list to receive more insightful articles like these as well as a FREE ‘Entrepreneur’s Guide to Tax Deductions Checklist’
Hanneke Barlow is an accountant to creatives. She has nearly 10 years of hands-on experience in the accounting & tax fields. Her wild passion for the creative industry sparked an entire revamp of her once freelance accounting services. It bloomed and exploded into a trend-setting business providing tailored tax and accounting packages. She has helped hundreds of creatives by guiding their accounting and tax journey.