Why communication is key to engaging your clients
To generate more business from your existing clients it is essential that you communicate the value you offer to them and their business.
Without it, clients won’t know what you can do for them and how you can save them money, reduce their stress and make them more successful.
Many accountants keep their communication focused around tasks and deadlines imposed by the ATO. As a result, clients see communications from their accountant as something that is of low value and they are reluctant to engage in.
The problems that arise from having poor communication with clients include:
- Being late. Even though you asked for the same documents and information every month, quarter or year clients always seem to provide them late.
- Being incomplete. When they do happen to send the documents they are usually missing something
- Being wrong. Sometimes they just send the wrong stuff.
The most common approaches to get around these issues include:
- Give more notice. Increasing the possible time for clients to respond is assumed to help them get the information to you. After all, if people are busy having more time will only help them, won't it?
- Hounding – keep calling and emailing until they send it through. Even though it doesn’t work with our kids we somehow expect it to work with clients.
- Take responsibility for it yourself. This just creates extra work that you probably wont charge for.
- Let them suffer the consequences of not lodging. While this is probably the best option, it reflects poorly on you and your relationship with them.
As George Bernard Shaw said, "The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
The greatest concern of poor communication for accountants is the missed opportunities to sell more of their services, and to cross sell into other parts of their firm. This is costing firms cash flow and clients.
The 2018 National Australia Bank report Key Insights into the Australian Accounting Industry highlighted that 20 per cent of SMEs wanted their accountant to proactively sell them more services. An additional 23 per cent admitted to switching accountants to a firm that proactively sold to them. Tellingly, 42 per cent of accountants admitted that not knowing how to sell extra services was causing clients to leave. Not knowing how to communicate the value you offer and ask for more business is a massive issue for firms.
Three strategies to improve communication with your clients.
Be focused on them. The first step to improving any communication is to focus on your audience. With everyone being so busy, clients just don’t have time to focus on what you want or need to tell them. Instead, frame your message so it is useful to them. This may sound pedantic but it works. When you say, "I need your bank statements to reconcile your books", you're focusing on yourself. But when you say, "You’re due for a review of profit over the last quarter, can you send me your bank statements so I can produce it", you’re making the same activity about them.
Be useful to them. When sending out your newsletters, include useful information your clients will want to read. Focus on an easy tip they can use to improve cash flow, PAYG or super obligations. Offer information to make their life easier.
Including lodgement dates is not as useful as you might think. While clients need to know these dates, they cause pain. When a client sees lodgement they instantly think of giving away their money to the ATO. The last thing you want your clients to think of when they see something from you is pain.
Be curious about them. When your next speaking to your clients be genuinely curious about their business. Ask simple, open-ended questions to find out what is happening. It might be as simple as, ‘How are you set for cash-flow over the next quarter?’ or, ‘What strategies are you using to reduce your debtor days?’
These simple questions will tell you a lot about what is going on in their business. If they have no strategies to monitor cash flow or reduce debtor days, offer to help them out with setting some up. Don’t tell them how to do it, but rather set up a time to get together and work on it. You can then charge for this time.
When you open up communication with your clients they will see how valuable you are to their business. It is from here that you can offer more services to help them and your own firm grow.
Darren Fleming, engagement expert, Darren Fleming & Executive Speaking