TIM W. HRASTAR owns a consulting company in Englewood, Ohio, that assists professional service firms. He consults, lectures, conducts workshops and writes articles on communication, service marketing and client relationships.
Many CPAs are unhappy with their client relationships. They complain that the clients do not follow their advice but then say they are dissatisfied with the outcome of an engagement. The CPAs dont feel they ever get their points across. Sound familiar?
This problem often stems from a lack of rapport between the client and the CPAlittle healthy dialogue takes place between the CPA and the client and perhaps the client does not feel comfortable enough to tell the CPA what he or she really wants. This kind of relationship can cost CPAs a lot of business.
How do you build better rapport? You have to hone certain communication skills and find new ways to make it more comfortable for your clients to express their concerns. If you remember to follow these simple instructions, you will keep your clients coming back.
Be prepared. First, know exactly what you want to accomplish with an engagement. How many times have you walked into a situation thinking that you could simply wing it? Believe me, clients can see when you are not prepared for a meeting. If you really want to help your clients solve their problems be focused. Set out the objectives for your meetings. Know what you want to accomplish. When you are better prepared earlier in the process, youll come across as more self-assured, and that is what a client wants in an adviser.
Learn to listen. According to Kare Andersons book, Getting What You Want , people listen sooner, better and longer when you speak to their needs first. Considering only your own perspective when speaking with your client will create a negative first impression thats hard to overcome. First ask your client what his or her concerns are. Find out what clients want and make them comfortable by letting them know you heard what they have to say. Try to be an 80/20 listenerlisten 80% of the time and talk only 20% of the time.
Listen carefully for information you need to help them solve their problems or change their way of thinking. Try to be a business therapistone who listens intently and empathetically to discover the clients real concerns and needs. When you give your clients a chance to express themselves fully without judgment or interruption, youve created a level of comfort. If clients feel you are genuinely concerned about their needs, theyll open up and tell you what they want.
Be reliable. Make sure your clients can depend on you. This means doing what you said you were going to do and when you said you were going to do it. Be on time and do it right the first time. The number of repeat clients will rise with the consistency of your service. Studies have shown that it takes twelve positive service incidents to make up for one negative incident, such as a delayed return phone call. Getting back to your clients quickly proves they can rely on you, and reliability is one of the most important elements of good client relations.
Be credible. When clients use your accounting services they want to be free from risk or doubt and they want confidentiality. When you are crediblethat is, believable and trustworthyyour clients feel comfortable dealing with you as both a person and as a professional. Credibility can be lost in a matter of seconds by saying or doing the wrong thing. Credibility means that you always perform your work with integrity, that you know exactly what your plan is and that the client is going to get what he or she expects from you. People dont want to deal with someone they dont trust.
Be professional. Physical appearance, both in your person and in your organization, speaks volumes about who you are and how you relate to clients. For example, a disorganized or untidy office is likely to leave a bad impression with your clients. You need to project a professional image.
Impress them as soon as they walk into your office. Make sure the lobby looks professional and presentable. More important, be sure that the first person they meet when they walk through the dooroften a secretary or receptionistis polished and polite. Remember, perception is reality.
Be responsive. Be accessible and willing to help clients whenever they have a problem. When you are with clients you need to make each one feel as if he or she is the only client you have. Keep clients informed and provide services as soon as possible. Let them know the best time and place to reach you. Also, tell the person who answers the phone to take complete messages and give callers a time when they can expect a return call. Once you start providing better client service, you can never go backthe client will always expect it. So be prepared to deliver exceptional service all the time, and look for ways to go beyond what you are doing now. When you do this, you set your self apart from your competition in your clients eyes.
Be understanding. Every individual wants to be treated in a special way and, particularly, they want to be understood. Every one of us has his or her own unique personal needs. As long as you continue to treat your clients as special people and demonstrate you understand their personal needs, they will continue to do business with you.
According to a recent report, service organizations generally lose clients to competitors because they die, they move away, they develop new friendships with a competitor, they find lower prices, they are dissatisfied with the product or service or the company was indifferent to them. The report revealed that as many as 68% of clients left because they felt they were neglected.
What Do You Want From A Professional?
Every CPA should think of new ways to enhance client relationships. Its simple. Think of what you like most about your relationship with your lawyer or your doctor. You probably consider them friends. If you treat your clients courteously and professionally, theyll think of you as more than just their CPA. That is the key to keeping them as clients. Today is a good day to begin.
Rapport Reading List
Here are some books for more on building better rapport with your clients.
Rain Making: The Professionals Guide to Attracting New Clients. Ford Harding. Bob Adams Inc., Holbrook, Massachusetts. 1994.
Managing the Professional Service Firm. David H. Maister. Free Press Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, New York City. 1993.
Marketing Your Consulting and Professional Services. Richard A. Connor, Jr. and Jeffrey P. Davidson. John Wiley & Sons, New York City. 1985.
Marketing Accounting Services. Robert J. Listman, Dow Jones-Irwin, Homewood, Illinois. 1988.
Conceptual Selling. Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman. Miller-Heiman, Inc. Distributed by Henry Holt and Co., New York City. 1987.
Getting What You Want: How to Reach Agreement and Resolve Conflict Every Time. Kare Anderson. Penguin-Puttnam/Dutton, New York City. 1993.
The One To One FutureBuilding Relationships One Customer at a Time. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. Currency Doubleday, New York City. 1993.
The Loyalty Effect. Frederick Reichheld. Harvard Business School Press, Boston. 1996.