CPAs, accountants and tax preparers are often referred to as “trusted advisors” to our clients. To obtain and keep this status, we must have outstanding communication and be responsive to our clients’ needs. With ever-changing technology, there is a temptation, and sometimes a demand, that we be available 24/7. This may or may not be the case with you and your firm, but here are some best practices we use to do more than just get the job done:
Provide a Timely Response
Getting back to clients on inquiries from emails, phone calls and texts is important. Blocking out a time of day to respond helps us set expectations and complete our work without interruption. During busy tax season, our receptionist had a list of times each of us returned phone calls. She attempted to schedule the callback during that time, or at least let the client know that is when we would be returning phone calls. Auto responders can also be set on email to provide similar information.
Use Software to Track Everything
Our firm prepares approximately 1,500 tax returns, along with QuickBooks® consulting, bookkeeping, payroll and business consulting services. We use Office Tools for our practice management software, where we track notes, to-do lists, phone calls, time tracking, scheduling and invoicing, and we have our clients’ electronic files at our fingertips. For us, Office Tools acts as “client central;” it syncs with Intuit® ProConnect™ Lacerte® and QuickBooks, so everything is in one location for us to quickly and accurately respond to clients and record completion of tasks.
Get in the Cloud
We use a cloud server that hosts our entire firm; however, we are anxiously awaiting the Office Tools Cloud that will allow us to switch to QuickBooks Online Accountant for our own practice, and we anticipate a change from Lacerte to ProConnect Tax Online as well. Our electronic filing cabinet will then be web-based, and we will be able to tag client files, such as tax returns and source documents, that clients can access any time instead of needing to contact us. There are other great programs available with this type of capability; however, we just want to keep everything integrated into as few programs as possible. Technology also allows instant video contact with our Filipino employees, employees working from home and clients.
Use the Complete Team
Clients often think they must communicate directly with the owners, even though they will get more responsive help from another member of our team. I’ll often forward the email to a team member and cc in the client so that the client can start to understand and grow accustomed to others, besides myself, to answer questions and provide what is needed.
Respond to Complaints
Our office manager is often the one to field these types of calls. She takes ownership, even though she didn’t create the situation. We listen to the complaint calmly. Often, clients want to feel heard, and a sincere apology along with communicating a corrective action is all that is needed for a client to feel better about the mistake.
Do Not Give Technical Explanations
We need to use language that the client understands. In Accounting for the Numberphobic: A Survival Guide for Small Business Owners, Dawn Fotopulos explains financial data in terminology understood by clients. We would all be well served by reading her book and learning how to better explain industry jargon that exceeds our clients’ understanding. For example, Dawn compares the income statement to an automobile speedometer, the cash flow statement to a gas gauge and the balance sheet to the oil gauge. Every client understands these terms!
Prioritize Your Clients
New clients are presented with an annual proposal that includes all their basic services, and it is paid monthly by ACH in advance. These clients get our top priority. As we are moving our older clients over to this system, we let them know that clients on our preferred program are always given priority status.
Communication that makes life simpler and eliminates pain for our clients is critical in our practice. It keeps clients happy and, in turn, they refer more business to us. Using technology, we are always looking for new and better ways to communicate.