It’s no secret that accountants aren’t known for their sparkling personalities. And that’s not fair.
Professionals who traffic in income statements, profit & loss, and other financial data are just as full of life as anyone else. They just happen to put their focus where it belongs: on the numbers.
Accounting firms like yours can use the stereotype of the introverted accountant to your advantage by nominally raising your communications game. With just a little effort and some smart processes, you have the potential to blow your clients away. And, in addition to enjoying the pleasant surprise creeping across their faces, you’ll also appreciate the business growth and ease that comes with stronger client relationships.
Here are 5 ways your accounting firm can create a solid foundation of communication with clients that will start you off on the right foot–and propel you through traditionally chaotic seasons.
1. Focus on relationships
By nature, financial service is rooted in providing expert advice. In order to build the trust that’s critical to accepting your strategic input, it’s important to connect with the people behind those tax returns, investment portfolios, and bookkeeping projects.
One way to ensure that every client feels like a valued person instead of a numbered project is to take the time to get to know them so you can provide tailored service designed just for them. Not only will this create efficiencies in the work that you do for your clients, it’ll also help create a strong connection. You might start by sharing some details about yourself that help them understand who you are–at work and in the world.
Along with the usual information you gather about their professional needs, you could ask questions like:
What are some interesting personal facts about your main point of contact(s)? What’s important to them outside of work? Do they have a family? Do they like to travel? What do they have in common with you or your team members?
What is the history of their business? How did they get their start? What’s their professional background?
What are the pain points of their job and their business? What are their biggest irritants with respect to accounting or financial services?
How do they prefer to communicate with you (phone, email, text, virtual)? What time of day (morning, afternoon, evening)?
What is their level of understanding of financial terms and services?
What other services can you provide to help them out?
When you have a strong sense of the people behind the projects, you’ll always have a friendly and relevant question to kick off any meeting. If you can show that you care about them beyond their business and can relate to them on a personal level, your clients will feel valued and at ease.
2. Develop your soft skills
We all know that accountants are laser-focused on accuracy and are exceptionally astute with numbers–but don’t forget about those soft skills. Emotional intelligence displayed in your communication, interpersonal, problem-solving, and collaboration skills is just as critical as your job-specific hard skills when serving people.
If you’re not as comfortable in client-facing meetings as you are with your accounting software, it might be worthwhile to take stock of your soft skills and work to improve them. This requires you to be self-aware about your weak spots and open to making a change.
Depending on the things you want to improve, you could take an in-person or online course, ask a coworker or mentor to advise you, create small challenges for yourself each week, and take the time to reflect on moments when you feel you succeeded – and those times that you didn’t. Often, simply paying attention to the soft skills we need to build on are enough to strengthen them.
3. Prepare tailored communication project plans
While it’s helpful to work on communication on a personal level, it’s just as important to think big picture. On an enterprise level, what can your accounting firm do to ensure you have strong, positive, and productive relationships with every client?
One important component is a formal communication plan for every client project that helps manage expectations, clarify the scope of deliverables, and keep everyone up to date about projects in progress.
Working from a template will allow for consistent service no matter which member of the team is managing the process. It could include:
Key stakeholders and their roles
A full description of ad hoc or ongoing services your firm provides
Potential challenges and solutions
A high-quality communication plan will also help all team members have the ability to step into a client file without a lot of laborious onboarding. By aligning on expectations, timelines, and dependencies early on, you’ll have a smoother and more efficient process during the busy seasons. When your clients know they can trust your team to perform consistently as expected, they’ll value your services and business practices even more
4. Check-in–even when it’s not expected
If you’re looking to build a business with a strong base of loyal clients, you’ve got to work to make that happen. That means not waiting for the quarterly or semi-annual meeting to connect with your clients. Like all relationships, they need to be nurtured.
Based on the information they shared in your first meeting, you can schedule check-ins in your calendar at a cadence that works for them using the method of communication they prefer. This consistency is another way to build trust.
Not sure how to start things off? That client file comes in handy once again with information about what you might have in common, what kind of sports or movies they follow, and their pain points. You might even do a bit of research before you pick up the phone to see if there’s anything noteworthy in the news that might relate to their business – or even a tip or strategy that they could use.
5. Use the right technology to communicate
It’s helpful to think about what role technology can play in making your communications as effortless as possible. Being able to deliver fast, accurate, and personal responses to your clients is crucial for accounting firms, especially during high-stakes situations and busy seasons. If one of your goals is to deliver personal communication to clients at key intervals, you’ll want smart solutions that allow you to reach out with the right message at the right time, without the time-drag of manual processes.
Software like Front can help put those email reach-outs on autopilot with templates that can be used as a jumping off point and shared inboxes that ensure the right people on your team have line of sight to all your communications. You can even delegate certain tasks and escalate others to help all of your clients feel that they’re getting fast, responsive, and caring personal service.
No matter how you choose to go about it, improving communication is often the X factor that leads to long-lasting client relationships. Your accounting firm has the opportunity to stand out from the pack by demonstrating that you’re a personable team that really cares.
Written by Logan Davis