10 commandments of client service for accountants

Apr 23, 2024 | Business Strategy, Client service

Over the years I have seen and heard much advice on the subject of client service for accountants. What you should do and what you should not do. I’ve whittled these down to the following list of ten ‘commandments’. I wonder if you agree with me and if there are any on my list where you know you could do better.

If so, then maybe focus on what you could do to improve your client service in this regard over the next few days, weeks and months.

1. Ask good questions
You need to identify and anticipate your client’s needs.
Some clients may just tell you everything they think you want to know. But some need to be encouraged and many clients won’t know what’s important and relevant until you ask them to take about specific issues.
You are the expert so you should know what additional information you need to obtain before you can give valuable advice.
Do you get to the nub of the issue to find your client’s underlying issues, concerns and worries?

2. Listen attentively
It’s all too easy to assume that one client’s situation and needs are the same as ‘all the others’ with a similar background.
Even if that turns out to be the case, the fact that you listened to them will help you form a stronger bond, give them more confidence in your advice and increase the prospect they will speak positively about you – leading to more referrals and recommendations.
For example, do you KNOW, as regards each of your clients, what are their 3 most important concerns?

3. Make clients feel special
Smile when you meet with them whether face to face or online.
Be careful to only make promises you know you can keep.
Be sincere.
Only ever under-promise and then over-deliver.
Give them more than they expect (as long as they will value the extras).
Be respectful of their time.
Resolve their problems as quickly as possible and keep them informed of your progress (or lack of it).
Every client interaction is an opportunity to show you care and to make them feel special.
Deliver a solution that meets or even exceeds a client’s expectations and you’ll strengthen your relationship with that client.

4. Avoid jargon
Remember that clients don’t generally use the same acronyms and abbreviations as accountants.
They may feel daft not understanding what you’re talking about and so just nod quietly.
Speak to clients using language they understand.
Communicate to be understood, not to impress.
Are you even aware of how often you use terms and jargon that clients may not follow?
Clients hate it. Most people do, which is why I didn’t simply say: DUTMA.
(DUTMA = Don’t Use Too Many Acronyms!)

5. Bill promptly and fairly
With the possible exception of your smallest clients, you AND your clients will benefit from regular billings and payments across the year.
‘Prompt’ billings means around the time you provided the service and in line with your terms of business/engagement.
‘Fairly’ means, fair to YOU as well as fair to your clients.
If your fee is going to be higher than they might have expected, you should DISCUSS this with them before sending out the fee note and chasing payment.

6. Apologise promptly
None of us is perfect.
When something goes wrong, be honest about it and apologise.
Suggest how you might make amends and seek your client’s feedback as to what they want.
Clients rarely swap accountants simply because of a mistake or two.
The problem comes when your client perceives that you don’t care enough.
Make it simple for clients to let you know if they have a problem.
Make it clear that you value their complaints. Better they should let YOU know than tell other people! It also gives you an opportunity to improve.
Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable. The client isn’t always right but they like to feel as though they have won – even when they are wrong.

7. Make it easy to do business with you
You don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. But you do need to be easy to contact.
If you’re often out and about, consider a telephone answering service so that a real person takes messages.
If you work alone then consider an online diary scheduling service to make it easier for clients to book meetings with you at mutually convenient times.
I use calendly – but there are many other options. These facilities can make your life easier whilst also removing the frustration that follows when a client cannot easily reach you.

8. Focus on solutions vs problems
Clients rarely ‘buy’ an accountant’s services as such. What they are really buying is someone to deal with their legal obligations to prepare and file accounts and/or tax returns, someone to provide advice on specific issues and who can provide them with good feelings and solutions to their problems.
The more you can talk in terms of providing solutions to your clients’ problems, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them and what else you could do for them.

9. Admit what you don’t know
You are rarely doing clients a favour if you pretend to have more knowledge and experience than you do. This may mean helping clients to appreciate that, while you are good at what you do, you are also professional enough to be aware of what you don’t know.
It was never reasonable to expect accountants to know everything. And certainly no decent professional accountant would claim to do so nowadays.
Clients will rely on you more if they know they can trust you to be honest with them.

10. Seek regular feedback
If you are serious about wanting to provide great client service, you will only know if you are succeeding by seeking feedback from your clients.
How do you do this? Casually or in an organised way that adds to your credibility?
The best approach invites constructive criticism, comments, and feedback suggestions.

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