One of the most persistent challenges that any new accountant faces when building his or her career and practice is creating positive and successful client relationships. While dealing with clients is one of the more important parts of accounting jobs, learning how to handle these relationships can be challenging, and many new accountants feel unprepared to nurture their client base. However, it is incredibly important for new accountants to successfully cultivate and forge fruitful client relationships as they grow their businesses and advance in their careers. With that in mind, here are six key points to keep in mind when starting out with client work – as well as three important lessons to keep in mind when handling challenging clients.
How to Handle New Clients:
People form the foundation of the accounting profession, and open and clear communication is the cornerstone of any successful interpersonal relationship. Often, a client who appears to be difficult to handle is simply feeling left out of the loop. Aim to foster an open and frequent communication policy with your clients. Besides promptly returning any calls and making yourself available for meetings, seek to proactively encourage an ongoing dialogue by checking in several times throughout the year rather than just during tax season.
Set clear expectations at the outset
Having clear goals and timelines helps foster a more productive and happier accountant-client relationship. Both at the beginning of your engagement and periodically throughout the process, check in with your client to find out what their expectations are and to share with them your understanding of the job. Making sure that your client thoroughly understands your firm’s timeline can help avoid misunderstandings.
Build personal relationships with your clients
Building personal relationships with your clients can help ensure your rapport is positive. While you shouldn’t confuse client relationships for personal friendships, taking time to get to know your clients and learn what is going on in their lives can help build a foundation for more harmonious and easy-to-manage business interactions.
Don’t ignore the warning signs
Confronting an issue that you think may be on your client’s mind right away can help prevent a small problem from becoming catastrophic. Keep in mind that clients who are getting frustrated or feeling ignored may be more sensitive; in these cases, a friendly phone call or an in-person meeting can go a lot further to resolving the situation than an e-mail which can easily be misread.
If your client is frustrated with how long a certain process is taking or is unhappy with a particular result, going on the defensive may feel natural. However, empathizing with your client will bring you a lot closer to resolving the underlying issue. Acknowledge that your client is feeling frustrated, apologize for any miscommunication, and ask questions to help get to the root of the issue rather than seeking to pass the blame. By requesting specific examples of what they’re looking for and what they think they aren’t getting, you stand a much better chance of repairing the issue and forging a long-lasting relationship.
Bring in help
If all of your attempts to build a relationship and smooth over problems fail, your issues with a particular client might simply boil down to a personality mismatch. Not every accountant is a good fit for every client. However, if you work with a larger team, bringing in a team member to help shift the dynamic and salvage the client relationship. Working within a team offers many benefits in regards to cultivating a client base if you are able to lean on your colleagues and provide support in return.
How to Handle Challenging Clients:
Clients who are very involved
When faced with a client who seeks to oversee your every move and insert themselves into the tasks that they hired you to perform, the simplest solution is often the best: do your best work. Continue what you were hired to do, because you can be secure in the knowledge that you are doing your best. In short, let your accounting talent and skill speak for itself.
Clients who may assign blame
Your client may seek to take credit for everything that goes well while also blaming you at the first sign of trouble. This can lead to a dynamic in which you are forced to be on the offensive to take credit and the defensive when things go wrong. Two effective approaches exist when faced with this kind of client: either have your upfront work agreement spell out your scope of work more clearly or simply be content to let the client take credit and have your work stand on its own.
Clients who set deadlines but who work slowly
Some clients set strict deadlines but work slowly in getting you the materials you need to finish the job on time. Shifting the blame to the client may feel justified, but it will likely be an ineffective approach. Instead, try to set a reasonable timeline with your clients from the start, and build in a buffer that takes into account the fact that many clients may be late getting you important materials. At the end of the day, working late or into the weekend to satisfy tough-to-meet deadlines may be a necessary price to pay for building your reputation and your client base.
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