Striking the right balance between client trust and extra fees

May 21, 2024 | Client service

Imagine you’ve gone to buy a second hand car and, after checking it has all the features you want, you agree the price you’ll pay with the vendor. You are thrilled.

They promise to give it a clean and bring it around to your house a couple of days later. That’s all part of the service and covered by the fee you’ve agreed to pay.

When they bring the car round though, they tell you that earlier they had spotted something that might have been a problem, so they arranged for the car to have an independent AA check. This confirmed there was no serious problem. The extra cost of this service was £1500 and the car dealer expects you to pay this on top of the amount you’ve previously agreed to pay for the car.

How good would you feel about the vendor’s care and concern for you and your new car?
Would your reaction be:

– “How thoughtful. I can see how that extra service gives me more peace of mind and shows how much the vendor wanted to go above and beyond just selling the car.” or

– “How dare they? Even if I believe there is some value to me in that extra service I’m annoyed they didn’t talk to me about it first. And I’m not happy to pay it either. I didn’t agree to it when we discussed the price.”

Maybe you think the salesperson could have done the full check themselves. Indeed perhaps you would have expected them to be able to do this.

Or maybe they always outsource this sort of thing as their customers don’t care who does the check, just so long as it is done properly.

Or maybe they should have simply advised you to have the check done yourself.

Where is this analogy going?

Now let’s bring this back to the work you do for clients.

We all know that most clients don’t like surprise extra fees. Even if you’ve done some excellent additional work, clients want to know about this before you commit them to paying more.

Maybe some of your clients follow the ‘How thoughtful’ train of thought summarised above.

But do not make the mistake of assuming this is the case, just because they’ve not said anything. They may just be marking time until they can find someone they consider to be more reliable and trustworthy.

A similar point arises when a client presents a challenge, issue or problem that means you need outside help.

When this happens you have 4 options:

  1. Engage a specialist to help you and then tell the client
  2. Advise the client that YOU will need to check things with a specialist
  3. Advise the client THEY will need to engage a specialist – and you can recommend one.
  4. Attempt to stumble along without external help and advice.

When you follow that last route though you risk giving your clients duff advice, breaching the terms of your PI policy and also the PCRT. This can put at risk your client relationships, your future and your career.

My advice when faced with such situations is to always imagine the person who needs your advice is a close family member or close friend.

Would you be happy for them to act on the basis of your advice – without you or they checking it with an expert.

If the answer is ‘no’ then you or they should check with an expert!

Over the years I have worked with accountants who have followed each of the four paths – and all have their own pros and cons.
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When you are faced with clients who need tax advice that goes beyond your level of experience and expertise you can use the FindataxAdviser.online website.
You can then decide whether to engage the specialist or discuss which option to follow with your client.
Some accountants engage specialists to support their accountancy practice across a range of clients, others engage specialists on one-off cases, and others refer their clients to a specific member as and when required.
This is often the right choice when the fee is likely to be large – as it saves YOU from having to negotiate this with your client.

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