The following list is a salutary lesson in what NOT to do if you want to keep your clients. You could also use it as a checklist to have counterpoints to raise in each case when talking to prospective new clients. If they are moving from a previous accountant, they will appreciate you asking what went wrong. Invariably it will be for one or more of the reasons on this list.

Obviously you will empathise and claim to be different. But so will everyone else the prospect might talk to. The key question is what evidence can you offer, in a compelling way, that helps them to believe your assertions?

Note also how few of theses issues relate to the quality of your work. Most are feelings and perceptions. if you have clients who feel this way YOU can help change things but only if YOU do things differently.

I have collated my list of 30 points from various ideas found around the web. Some of what follows will be facts. Some will be feelings and some will be false. But, even in the latter case, as I have often said: Perception is Reality.

So beware. You are at risk of clients being tempted away if they feel that:

  1. Their phone calls are not returned promptly
  2. You do not keep your promises or meet agreed deadlines.
  3. Their work is not completed on a timely basis affording them practically no time to make changes or ask questions.
  4. You are providing poor value for money.
  5. You are not evidencing your efforts to help them to pay less tax.
  6. You are not providing what they perceive to be a proactive service.
  7. You make mistakes or regularly have to accept there is a better solution when clients question your advice.
  8. They get demands for and have to pay unexpected tax liabilities.
  9. They get charged penalties and interest charges about which you had not forewarned them
  10. They have what they consider to be a good reason for not being forced to move into the cloud.
  11. You seem to lack sufficient relevant technical knowledge and confidence.
  12. You come across as arrogant and all knowing but they think this is just a front and that you are not confident to admit what you don’t know.
  13. Your resources are limited such that clients don’t feel they are getting prompt attention.
  14. You are only really in contact with them once a year.
  15. They feel their business has out-grown you and the resources you are able to muster.
  16. They perceive that you are more interested in last year’s accounts than helping them plan for the future.
  17. You rarely talk about ways to help them increase their profits.
  18. You seem to more interested in bigger clients with more complex needs re service and advice.
  19. You have not discussed (in recent years) their exit plans – for selling the business or retirement.
  20. You never call them to enquire “How’s business?”
  21. You never ask them tough business questions.
  22. You have started to charge them for new software and apps that they don’t understand – and they’re not convinced you do either.
  23. You put your fees up each year without explaining why this is fair to them.
  24. They can tell you are pretending to know more than you do and they feel that it’s too risky to follow your advice without getting a second opinion.
  25. They perceive that you use too much jargon and so they find it difficult to understand you.
  26. They feel that they never know what you will charge them.
  27. You don’t explain your ideas, preferring instead to act ‘the expert’, and expecting them to find enjoyment and value in listening to you pontificate.
  28. They perceive you to routinely say “no” rather than listening to what they want to do.
  29. They perceive that you don’t attempt to formulate ideas to help them reach their true goals.
  30. They perceive that you only talk numbers and taxes, nothing else. They feel absolutely no chemistry or rapport with you.

I doubt that all clients would have the same perceptions.  But if you think about that subset of your client base who may be unhappy, for one or more of these reasons, you can at least start to turn things around with them. The actions to take are implicit in the above list.

Beyond that, as I said at the start, you can also use this list as a prompt to think about how you could evidence that your approach is very different, regardless of which of these reasons is mentioned by a prospective new client as to what they feel about their old accountant.

The bottom line is to help ensure that clients recognise that you are interested in them, that you care more about them than your fees or ego, and that you have their best interests at heart.

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