4 Little to No-Cost Ways to Re-engage Unresponsive Clients
Imagine you have a teenager who is out with friends on a Saturday night. You asked him or her to be home by 10 p.m. At 10:05, the car hasn’t pulled up yet and you haven’t heard any updates. By 10:15, you have called and texted. By 11:00, you have called and texted multiple times, and already have the speech thought up in your head for when the garage door opens at 11:15 p.m., and a phone-addicted teenager says, “I forgot to check my phone.”
As accountants, sometimes chasing down a client can feel bit like dealing with an apathetic teenager, only without the ability to ground them when they refuse to respond to our requests. While the relationship may feel this way at times, it is in fact vital to make sure it remains quite the opposite. The analogy breaks down in that most business owners have an incredible amount of pressure and responsibilities that are fighting for their attention over our emails. To be successful in the world of accounting, we need to make our clients feel empowered and partnered with, not shielded by boundaries and belittled. So, how then do we handle it when we encounter a client that just doesn’t seem to have any sense of urgency in dealing with their financial matters? Here are just a few suggestions:
1. Recon – While we may be embarrassed to admit to Facebook stalking that ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend all those years ago, taking advantage of the digital age we live in for the sake of better serving your clients carries no shame. Check out their different social media outlets! Are they going through any big life events they forgot to fill you in on, such as moving, having a new baby or getting married? Use this to reach out and connect with them. Congratulate them, and send them a card or a gift. By adjusting your expectations and creating connections, you can help them to feel you are in their corner.
2. Pick Up the Phone – This one may sound obvious, but since we live in a digital age, it can often get overlooked. When was the last time you picked up the phone instead of sending another email to bog down their inbox? Creating personal connections, and closing as much of the communication gap as possible, can go miles in building trust and creating a client that responds quickly because they see you as a member of their team. While face-to-face meetings aren’t always practical or possible, reaching out through video chat or screen sharing may also be a helpful tool to reach beyond the inbox.
3. Keep it Short and Sweet – Instead of sending long emails packed with all the back log of needs and all the details, try sending a super short email with just the first one or two needs. Create something that is easy for them to read and easy for them to accomplish in under five minutes. Once they respond to that, send the next task. Our clients are in the weeds of their daily business. You are more likely to create an environment of responsiveness by sending a higher number of simple requests than you are by sending one long request that they will most likely put off until they find the time (read: never).
We use a somewhat inappropriate rule of thumb at Two Roads – if your email can’t be read and responded to while using the restroom, then you need to rewrite it to be shorter and easier to understand what you are asking for.
4. Consider Your Audience – Are you dealing with someone who may be less technologically minded, or perhaps a business owner who is spread extremely thin between multiple companies and a family? Are they direct and focused, or maybe very easily distracted as their mind races in several directions at once under all their responsibilities. Taking these things into consideration, and tailoring your communication style and the methods you use to aid them, will go a long way in gaining their trust. If they are easily distracted, try to offer them a setting, such as live a videoconference, where you can see whether they are being attentive and help to keep them focused. If they are direct, honestly and politely share with them what the consequence will be to their business if the specific task is hindered further. Communication between accountant and client cannot be a one-size-fits-all process.
The bottom line with all four of these suggestions is to work towards making your client feel heard, seen and partnered with. Tailor your service and care to their specific case. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or create huge inefficiencies. A simple change in wording, acknowledging circumstances or switching up the communication tool will do the trick! By doing this, you can foster a relationship of trust and respect, which will hopefully lead to them seeing the value in quickly cooperating with you to help them reach their own success.