Are you losing out by making too many assumptions about your clients?

Apr 11, 2023 | Client service, Sole practitioners

About 25 years ago a long-standing client told me that she had a new boyfriend who was a Russian. Could I give him some tax advice related to his business interests? He was willing pay thousands of pounds for tax advice.

As a firm we didn’t have any Russian clients and I think the request took place just a few days after we had completed our in-house training on the anti-money laundering rules. That is possibly why I was immediately concerned.

I remember going to our MLRO and explaining that I didn’t have any specific reasons to be suspicious but that, if I met with the Russian boyfriend, I feared I would then have reasons to be suspicious and might need to file a report etc.

Our MLRO agreed it would be safest to avoid meeting the boyfriend even though the likely fees sounded attractive.

In effect my assumptions determined what happened and we didn’t take on the Russian client or get paid for helping him.

That is perhaps an extreme example of where we lost out on fees due to assumptions that the attendant risks were too high.

These days I would always encourage accountants to work with specialist tax advisers when faced with such situations.

But many accountants make assumptions much more frequently about their clients – and are probably losing out as a result.

These assumptions are usually based on our experience and the views we have built up about what our clients need. So we don’t always ask the right questions. This can all too easily lead to missed opportunities and limitations in the value we provide.

Clients Don’t Always Know What to Ask: Dig Deeper

Assuming clients always know what questions to ask is a common mistake. It’s our responsibility to clarify why they are asking questions to uncover their underlying issues and to ensure we have all the salient facts before we answer.

Do you, for example, understand your clients’ financial goals, business plans, and any recent changes in their situation?

By asking better questions, you may discover their real issues enabling you provide more relevant and valuable advice and solutions than would otherwise have been the case.

The Importance of Digging Deeper: Missing the Real Issue

Clients may only mention the symptoms of their problem, not the underlying cause. As accountants, we must go beyond surface-level symptoms by actively listening and asking open-ended questions. For example, if a client asks about cash flow management, we need to understand the context and have sufficient information about their business operations, sales, and expenses to uncover any underlying problems. By delving deeper, you can provide targeted solutions that address the root cause, rather than just treating the symptoms.

Clients Assume You Know Everything: Seek Expert Advice

Clients often assume accountants know everything, but it’s important to acknowledge our limitations and seek expert advice when needed.

Being transparent and proactive in seeking help from specialists demonstrates professionalism and commitment to providing the best advice. For example, in the complex world of tax, be honest about your areas of expertise and seek help when needed to provide accurate solutions. (The FindaTaxAdviser.online website is a superb, free to use, resource in this regard)

Lost Opportunities: The Cost of Assumptions

As I did all those years ago, making assumptions about clients’ questions can limit the value and revenue potential of our services. There may be a good reason for this – as with my client’s Russian boyfriend.

In general though, by exploring a client’s background and evidencing our (relevant) expertise, we can demonstrate value and charge higher fees for specialist services and advice.

I know that you probably have a bunch of clients who cannot afford to pay for advice and services beyond the recurring compliance work they need you to do each year. But, PLEASE avoid assuming this is true for all of your clients and that NONE of them are sufficiently interested or willing to pay for additional advice and services. If you approach them appropriately you may well find more of them are willing and able than you might have assumed.

The Call to Action

Look. I admit it. I’m not perfect.

I still make assumptions that work to my detriment.  For example, I assume that accountants like you will get in touch with me when the time is right for you. I assume that you wouldn’t appreciate it if was to call you out of the blue.

When I do work with accountants we often find that they have been making unhelpful assumptions. Typically they were not even aware of this until we started talking.

I love finding out in later calls that they have taken my advice and are no longer making those unhelpful assumptions. And, as a result, they are earning more, feel better about their practice and are less frustrated and overwhelmed.

Might you be making an unhelpful assumptions about your clients?  Or about how a conversation with me might go? Stop it.  Let’s talk – without any obligation.  Book a time that suits us both now >>>

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