Good customer service in the accounting world follows the same principles as in other industries and professions. Focus on what your clients’ key frustrations are in dealing with accountants and their processes, and base your services around the needs of your clients.
Here are some customer service tips based on real complaints from clients I have taken over from other accountants in recent months:
1. Work around the client’s schedule, not yours.
“My accountant told me I could not have my accounts done until October”. This is very common in the world of accounting. There are any number of reasons why a client would want their annual accounts prepared urgently, and it is our job to make sure we have sufficient flexibility to accommodate the needs of our clients.
2. Take an interest in your client’s overall business health.
“I desperately need help to better manage my business and my finances, but my accountant is only interested in preparing my annual accounts and tax return”. We accountants not only know more about the businesses our clients operate than virtually anyone else, but in addition, we are the most trusted advisor to our clients. This places us in a unique position to help our clients. If we fail this in duty, we are being negligent.
3. Communicate regularly with each client and visit them at their place of business.
“I never get to speak to my accountant, only her inexperienced assistant who doesn’t know anything about my business”. As practising accountants we need to maintain our relationships with clients and make sure we know what is going on in their businesses. Only then can we properly fulfil our duties and give the best possible advice to our clients. In my experience, you can only really understand your client’s business if you know how it works and what happens in the client’s day to day operations.
4. Be up-front with your fees.
“I need to budget all my costs and my accountant won’t tell me what my fees are going to be for the following year”. Don’t expect the clients to take all the risk in their relationship with you. Be up-front about your fees so the client can budget properly.
5. Answer quick questions for free.
“I get sent a bill every time I ask a question whether or not they actually answer the question”. Business is complex, and there are loads of questions a business owner will ask that we are best suited to answer. It doesn’t take long to answer quick questions, and a modern accountant will build this in to fees and go the extra mile to help his or her clients.
6. Pay the penalties if it’s your mistake.
“I found out that I have been paying IRD interest and penalties because the accountant stuffed up and covered up their mistake”. We need to keep up-to-date with our clients’ current trading positions and be on top of the situation at all times. Not only that, but if the client suffers penalties as a result of our inadequacy, we should pay the penalties, not the client.
7. Don’t use generic questionnaires or ask for information twice.
“The accountant makes me fill in a long questionnaire with loads of questions I do not understand—and most of which are not relevant to my situation” or “My accountant asks me lots of questions that they already know the answer to”. It’s much better to only ask our clients for the information we really need and then send them a list of questions specific to their circumstances. That also means the answers are going to come back from the client a lot quicker and nothing will be missed. If you use junior staff, be sure they have sufficient background information. There is nothing more likely to annoy a client than asking for information we already know.
I just love that quote from my friend Winston Marsh, the well-known Aussie business guru who says “The Native Americans had a beautiful definition of empathy. They said that you cannot know a person until you have spent at least three moons in their moccasins”. So as Winston says, stop thinking like an accountant and walk in the moccasins of your clients. Only then can you provide great customer service to your clients!