We know we need to treat every client individually even though we may assume that what they want and need is pretty much the same – in general terms at least.
Clients like to be treated as individuals, listened to and treated as special. A common mistake many accountants make is to assume they know what matters to clients and to treat them all the same regardless. If clients sense this is your approach they may feel less loyal and more likely to switch to someone who makes them feel special.
The only real exceptions to this rule are those clients who are with you because all they want is the cheapest possible help to satisfy their compliance obligations.
Many years back I used to encourage my teams to keep in mind the ABCDE of what most clients wanted from us. The principles haven’t changed.
In recent years I have shared the ABCDE with accountants who tell me they have themselves used it to train their teams. And I know some even share this with clients as part of their initial chat and to show that ‘our focus is on what matters most to our clients’.
So here it is:
A = Advice
Clients want to know what they need to do, when they need to do it, how to avoid problems, how to benefit from opportunities and how to resolve challenges, In short they want Advice. You will attract and retain more clients if they know they can come to you for Advice – and, even more so, if you are pro-active and do not wait for them to ask for your help. Think how much your clients have appreciated your pro-active advice during lockdown.
I always used to distinguish Advice from Answers. Whether they say so or not, clients rarely just want answers. After all, they often do not know the right questions to ask. You need to evidence your experience and expertise to check what they really need to know in order to make a decision or a choice. This is another reason why simply Answering questions is rarely enough.
One common mistake here is all too common when there were two (or more) possible options that a client could pursue. I always wanted my staff to never leave a client dangling with a choice that they might find hard to make (unless you KNOW for certain that a particular client is happy with to be given a choice – most don’t).
Wherever possible your emails should always advice which route to go, which option to take. Most clients want Advice and generally do as their accountant advises.
B = Barrier
Clients want us to act as a Barrier between them and HMRC. One of the primary reasons why many people engage an accountant is to get help with their tax obligations. They are scared about the taxman and want to be confident that we will be able to deal with all correspondence that comes in from HMRC. They want to be confident that they won’t have to worry about any communications they get from the taxman. They love to be able think and say: I don’t have to worry about that. My accountant deals with it all for me.
C = Compliance
This follows on from acting as a Barrier between clients and the taxman. They know they have Compliance obligations. That’s why they need the help of an accountant. They have to comply with their legal obligations but they don’t fully understand exactly what they need to do. And they don’t want to spend time doing any of it. This why we need to deal with all of the Compliance paperwork and processes. And we help clients keep to a minimum the time they need to spend on such things.
D = Dates
We make sure that clients know when they need to do things and when we’ll do things, when tax needs to be paid and when refunds can be expected.
E = Estimates
We provide estimates of the tax payable and repayable and update these as and when the information changes.
I remember playing around some years back and adding further definitions for additional letters (F, G, H etc). But none stuck and five is about the right number.
If everyone on the team keeps the ABCDE in mind and checks with clients as to how they feel about each element, those clients will know that you are focused on them, their needs and their priorities. I have never heard of a client that wouldn’t appreciate that!