In this episode of Pulse of Practice “Communicating with Staff and Clients in COVID 19”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, and I discussed the challenges around collecting dynamic information and shared our own successful practices for client communication during a crisis.
With information changing at rapid speeds, many firms are struggling to find the best way to communicate with accounting clients during COVID-19.
You do not have to have all the answers
When looking for best practices for communicating with accounting clients during COVID-19, it may seem like you are fighting an uphill battle. You are battling the press, your client’s psyche, constant questioning, and more, all while still trying to complete your normal work and deadlines.
“I’ll take tax reform any day of the week now,” says Paul. “This is a whole other animal to tackle.”
The future is unfolding in front of our eyes, and our clients are still waiting and wanting answers. It is a challenge to field these questions and figure out a game plan going forward. Despite this challenge, to be successful advisors, we need to move forward confidently for the sake of our firm. A way we can combat this is by recognizing the “unknowns” and letting go of the expectation that you need to have all the answers immediately. Your client’s real fear is not that you do not know the answers. The real fear is that you aren’t searching for them.
“There were still some unknowns [with the tax reform], but at least we could put our arms around what we were dealing with,” notes Paul. “One of the challenges I see right now is we can’t even put our arms around it. It is constantly moving. So, you must get your clients to the place of, ‘We got this, don’t worry, I’m on it.’ As soon as we get some information, we’ll be able to dissect it and figure it out.”
Communicate with accounting clients during COVID-19 beyond the emails
Paul Miller found that his clients, even before the pandemic, do not want to read anything. They want you to explain things to them. Thus, sending out PDFs, news bulletins, or long email briefs and saying, “here is some information on what you should do,” is turning your clients off. Also, with information changing so quickly, by the time you try to prepare something in writing the world could change again. Nevertheless, some communication is better than none. We must think of new and creative ways to communicate with our clients while keeping them engaged.
“I think what has been very effective is short video communication,” says Paul. “This is a great way to start a kind of interface with your clients. I’ve done a number of short clips this week, and my staff has been able to use them as links when someone has a question.”
Even when having nothing to say, or no definitive answers to provide, putting your face in a video and recognizing that you are working on the issues is calming to your clients. Furthermore, if your video eliminates 10 phone calls or emails, then it is a success.
“We did one for unemployment, the CARES Act, and the stimulus bill. I just think we can’t be writing responses to people. We can’t be sending long emails to clients. We have to find a way to get communication to them in a way that makes sense, and they can basically feel as though they are being taken care of.”
Embrace the opportunity to build relationships even stronger
Unfortunately, while trying to communicate with accounting clients during COVID-19, you cannot answer every client individually. This is a fast-moving situation, and your firm must deal with what is at hand.
“People’s financial lives are at stake here. A lot of clients are wondering what is going to happen, and how this is going to work out,” notes Paul. “I think when you see these things, you have to be able to see this as a great opportunity to build that relationship even stronger.”
Paul also put together a successful, weekly town hall to address the rolling information and issues via a live platform. He, with a guest, addresses the hot topics and bulk questions people are asking, pleasing his clients and eliminating the need to answer every email individually.
“The time I spend in putting these advisory packages together and helping people with these items, people are so appreciative of the extra time,” adds Paul. “And that is an investment in the relationship in the future.”
Listen to the “Communicating with Staff and Clients in COVID 19” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.