Referrals hold immense power in the heart and mind of the accounting buyer. They are able to sway opinions and, in many cases, convince a client to take their business to a competing service provider.

In fact, according to our 2019 Accounting Buyer Benchmark Study, referrals are a prospective client’s top resource when vetting potential accounting firms to work with. They’re so important that 77% of accounting clients would consider leaving their existing firm if another one was recommended to them.


Client Referrals 101 – What Drives a Client to Refer and How to Ask for a Referral

Knowing that referrals are a leading strategy for winning new opportunities with prospects, what steps has your firm taken to measure “referrability” and identify clients who would be willing to recommend you to their friends and colleagues?

At ClearlyRated we have found that a Net Promoter® client survey is the best place to start.

The Net Promoter Score (or NPS®) survey asks your clients, “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?” Promoters are clients who respond with a 9 or 10 rating on a Net Promoter Score survey, and they should be top of mind as you build out your client referral strategy.

Promoters are more likely to believe that:

  • Your firm’s services are of good value, given their cost and quality.
  • You’re proactive in helping them achieve their goals.
  • Your team delivers high-quality and error-free work.
  • You hit deadlines.
  • You understand their needs.
  • You’re responsive and quick to reply to email and voicemails.

Findings from the 2019 Accounting Buyer Benchmark Study show that Promoters are less likely to leave their current firm for a competitor and also less likely to decrease their accounting spend. Throw in that promoters are 6 times more likely to give you a testimonial and 42 percent more likely to write an online review, and that means both creating these promoters and identifying them can equal serious value for your firm.


What Hurts Your Referrability (and Reputation)

Aside from understanding what makes a Promoter — and potentially a referral — it’s also important to know what leads a client to respond with a 0 – 6 on the NPS scale. These clients are Detractors, and they represent a high risk to your brand as they are “not at all likely” to recommend your business to a friend or colleague.

What’s more, not only are Detractors unlikely to give you a valuable referral, but they’re also more likely to post an outright negative review. In fact – 38% of accounting clients who have experienced a service issue with their accounting firm report that they left a negative review on a public website like Yelp or Google. And in today’s low-trust digital world, these bad reviews hold way more power than good ones. In fact, negative reviews have almost two times the impact as positive ones.

In addition to leaving bad reviews, Detractors also often:

  • Tell people in their network about their service experiences
  • Proactively discourage people not to use your business
  • Quit working with your firm entirely


So what makes a Detractor? When we asked accounting clients who had left their primary accounting firm why they chose to do so, 43% said they left because of service failures. Service failures in this case include lack of responsiveness, errors or mistakes in their work, lack of understanding of the client’s business needs, and a lack of proactivity in servicing the client. Other Detractors say new leadership, increased costs and outgrowing the firm’s offerings also played a role in their leaving a firm.

But service failures don’t have to mean an automatic “hit” to your firm’s reputation. When service issues are identified early and proactively (as with a client survey), they offer a unique opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a long-term Promoter. Our studies show that of accounting clients who have had a service failure, those who were “very satisfied” with the issue’s resolution reported a higher NPS score than clients who never had an issue in the first place.



To maximize the ROI of your client feedback initiative and boost referrability, it’s essential that you build a firm-wide strategy for addressing service issues in a way that transforms Detractors into Promoters. Here are a couple of recommendations:

  • Educate yourself on the “service recovery paradox” – learn how a service failure offers the opportunity to win more loyalty with a client than if they never experienced an issue at all.
  • Implement a clear process that helps your team master the art of service recovery – we published our own 10-step recipe for recovering from service failures in a way that builds trust and creates win-wins.

Buyers are Looking for Reasons to Trust You – Referrals Can Help

Trust is at historically low levels. According to Gallup, only 18% of consumers trust big business — even less than those who trust the media. Referrals, reviews and testimonials from real-life clients give you the opportunity to combat this distrust and build a credible reputation, both online and off.

Are you ready to identify Promoters who can refer your firm and help build your reputation and client base? Consider implementing an NPS survey program. Contact ClearlyRated to learn about NPS for accounting firms today.


  • ClearlyRated

    ClearlyRated is dedicated to assisting our clients kick a** in their client experience strategy and continuously on a mission to help B2B service firms differentiate themselves based on their service excellence. Our platform blends a short, client satisfaction survey leveraging NPS® to improve retention, grow accounts, win new business, and boost online reputation.