Being responsive to clients

By Cheryl Meyer

CPAs and their firms have daily pressures and hectic schedules, but being responsive is crucial to client satisfaction. Leaders in the profession offer this advice for CPA firms that want to be responsive to clients:

Return calls, emails, and texts in a timely manner to establish trust. It's all too easy to push things off until the next day. Many CPAs have a 24-hour rule, stressing the importance of callbacks or returned emails or texts within that time.

Establish a response policy. While having an informal response rule helps at the personal level, formally codifying it can benefit the whole organization. Firm leaders may wish to create a policy that explains how quickly clients must receive a response, and then communicate that policy to employees. Joseph Tarasco, CPA (inactive), founder and CEO of consulting firm Accountants Advisory Group in Cold Spring, N.Y., advises firms to drop everything if a client has a crisis.

Choose to communicate in a way that suits your client. Some clients prefer emails; others prefer texts or phone calls. Some want to meet in person. Know how your clients want to communicate.

Prioritize. Make lists of clients you need to contact or respond to. Take advantage of different productivity tools, such as spreadsheets and apps, and keep revisiting and updating your lists.

Use language your client will understand. Your clients are not tax accountants, so avoid sending them jargon-filled emails and instead explain things to them in common terms.

If a client wants to meet, do it. If a client requests a meeting, try to meet as soon as possible, even the next day if you have time. Doing so highlights your availability and responsiveness.

Be compassionate. Clients should view you as a trusted adviser, and that means being a good listener. "If a client has pain, try to find out the pain and meet with the client to help them through it," said Edward Mendlowitz, CPA/ABV/PFS, a partner at WithumSmith+Brown in New Brunswick, N.J.

Follow up. Even if a client seems satisfied with your response to issues that arise, contact the client again within a few days. Ask, "How are things going? Did it work out as planned? Did my advice help? Did anything else get uncovered?" Tarasco said.

Keep your client roster manageable. Having too many clients can make it difficult to serve all of them in a timely manner. "If you are not responsive to clients, you give them a reason to leave you, look outside, and complain," said Richard Lash, CPA, managing partner at Walthall CPAs in Cleveland.

Editor's note: This checklist is excerpted from the article "9 Tips for Being More Responsive to Clients," CPA Insider, March 20, 2017.

—By Cheryl Meyer, a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4077.

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