Psychologist and author Rollo May observed, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.”
The connection between accountants and their clients is an important relationship in the business world. Not only do clients trust their accountants with detailed — potentially embarrassing — financial secrets, they also expose many of their business decisions, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Like all relationships, in order for “mutual valuing” to occur, we need to start with effective, transparent communication, especially when connecting with clients. Here are some top tips for improving communication with accounting clients, so you can create an effective sense of community and understanding.
Why transparent client communication is important for tax and accounting firms
Because trust is central to communication between CPA firms and clients, transparency needs to be the foundation of your communication style. Transparency breeds trust because it lets your client know that you aren’t trying to hide anything.
Maintaining transparency can be a challenge, however, particularly when you have to deliver disappointing news. But this is when your candidness may be most appreciated, and this principle also applies when you make a mistake. When you’re transparent with your clients, you honor them and their intellect, which prevents you from coming across as condescending or dismissive.
5 tips for accountants to improve client communication
Improving client communication boils down to putting yourself in their shoes and then crafting your interactions accordingly.
Tip 1: Give accounting clients a heads up about surprises
For many clients, surprises equate to stress. Any unexpected change can bring emotional pressure, and according to some mental health organizations, this causes anxiety. On the other hand, letting your clients know about unexpected developments ahead of time can reduce their negative impact and strengthen your bond. With open communication, even adverse events like the pandemic can strengthen connections with tax clients, especially when conveying unexpected news.
Here are some things to keep in mind while trying your best to give clients a heads up about surprises:
- Communicate early about potentially bad news. Whether it’s the amount they are going to owe in taxes, new regulations that may impact their filing, or anything in between, you want to give them as much time as possible to digest and adapt to any negative news.
- Don’t beat around the bush. Be very clear, and communicate surprises in as few words as possible. This gives your clients time to ask clarifying questions as they grapple with the new information and its implications.
- Don’t forget to communicate unexpected good news as well. This is important, especially for strategic reasons. For example, suppose a client is going to have a significantly smaller tax obligation than anticipated. That’s great. Letting them know ahead of time can give them a chance to strategically invest some of the money they’re saving.
Tip 2: Ask plenty of questions
Questions are one of your most powerful tools as an accountant, especially because they give you insight into not only how the business works, but also what makes its owner tick. You can then use these insights to custom-design your accounting services for each client.
For example, you should feel free to ask questions regarding:
- Their long- and short-term goals for the company
- How they plan to scale the business — up or down — if the right circumstances arise
- What they plan to do in light of specific financial current events, such as low or rising interest rates, supply chain issues, or fluctuations in the prices of commodities that pertain to their business
- Why they might want to make certain investments
In addition, feel free to ask them questions regarding any numbers that may seem higher or lower than you expected. You may want to introduce this kind of query with a polite, “So I just wanted to double-check a few figures…”
Tip 3: Call individual clients after hours
The time you choose to call clients is an underrated strategic move that can do a lot to strengthen communication and bolster your overall relationship. Calling after hours, such as between 7:30 and 8:30 pm, can be a good choice because:
- It’s easier for you as your daily work is usually over.
- It’s easier for them. You’re probably not interrupting the busiest part of their day.
- It lets clients know you’re hard at work for them, regardless of the time of day. They may appreciate the industriousness it takes to reach out after your workday is done.
It’s best to limit this practice to individual clients, as opposed to businesses. Business clients may not have the staff to take the call, and decision-makers may prefer to receive calls during regular hours. Use your discretion here. Make sure you’re also prioritizing your mental wellbeing and disconnecting when the workday is over, so you can avoid burnout.
Tip 4: Incorporate tax and accounting data into your feedback
A data-based narrative is simultaneously more compelling and actionable. It also adds validity to any claims or projections your narrative includes.
For instance, instead of simply saying, “You did very well this past year; numbers are looking good, and you’re in a strong position for the next few quarters,” you should include concrete data with your analysis.
As an example, you could say, “It looks like the automation you applied in your accounts receivables processes really paid off because your percentage of accounts between 30 and 45 days delinquent dropped 28%, without negatively impacting overall revenue, which climbed notably 13.7% year over year.”
While both will be welcome news, the latter is more tangible and substantive, while also giving the client numbers they can use as benchmarks for future performance.
Tip 5: Use visual aids
Visual aids, as well as any form of written communication, are especially important during meetings. A wall of text, or a verbose speech, can cause your client’s mind to drift away from what may be crucial information.
Instead, consider incorporating visual aids, such as:
- Side-by-side performance comparisons
- Results arranged according to key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Images — even stock ones — that align with what you’re presenting
How tax and accounting firms can master client communication
Using the Thomson Reuters suite of accounting firm solutions, even small accounting firms can have the resources and reporting technologies they need to communicate business-critical insights with their customers. Also, large accounting firms get a range of tools they can use to bolster the services they already provide. With Thomson Reuters, you’re empowered to do more for your clients, so you can earn both their trust and business.