Proven Team and Client Communications Strategies
The linchpin of all collaboration is communication. Poor communication, whether internal or external, is a major source of inefficiency. How you communicate should be an intentional process with consistency, brevity and transparency at its core. A well thought-out approach to communication should take into account how you work; how you communicate internally; and how you communicate externally.
How you work
Conducting a process audit to discover how your team works is key to being in a position to communicate and collaborate efficiently.
The following steps can help the process run smoothly:
- Discovery and standardization
- Sit down with your team, figure out your current processes, and standardize them.
- Define, document and track
- Create a benchmark document that can be customized (such as a wiki), but allows everyone to be up-to-date on current practices.
- Assign ownership
- Every project, client and task should have a single, clearly defined owner, and that owner should know who he or she is.
- Ensure consistency
- Make sure everyone understands and use the processes, every time. This way everyone will know what needs to be done and how.
Once you have understood and standardized your processes, it’s time to remove internal barriers and make information readily available in living documents.
These tips can help improve your internal communications:
- Eliminate internal email
- Email consumes your time and creates information silos. Instead, internal dialogue should be available to everyone in an easily searchable format.
- Pick a tool that works for your firm
- There are a number of options to get rid of messy, internal email. What is important is that you pick something and use it consistently across the entire firm.
- Communicate more with peers
- Spend more time communicating internally, both in person and through other mediums. It builds relationships and helps growth of both employees and the practice.
- Flag colleagues when needed
- Be explicit when communicating with multiple peers, and call out the person who is responsible for its completion.
- Foster a culture of documentation
Once you have internal standards in place, it’s time to think about external communications. Unfortunately, email is still the easiest and most familiar way for clients to communicate.
The following tips and tricks will make those interactions as productive as possible:
- Set expectations up front
- Before you even sign a contract, explain to clients how you communicate, and what turnaround times to expect. This way, they can decide if how you communicate works for them. If it doesn’t, they might not be right for you. You want each of your clients to fit well into your regular workflow.
- Train clients on how to work with you
- This may sound daunting at first—especially if you have many clients. But “training” simply means sticking to standardized practices and teaching by example. If you are consistent, over time, your clients will learn how to maximize their working relationship with you.
- One email, one project
- Limit the client and the thread of the conversation to one topic. When an email comes in with multiple topics, split them and answer them independently. This allows you to share your response with appropriate people and ensure that responses are searchable later.
- Keep emails concise
- Stick to the point. If you have multiple questions, turn them into bullet points so that the client will gravitate to them. If an email is going to be more than a few paragraphs, pick up the phone and speak with the client directly instead.
- Write meaningful subject lines
- A well-written subject line can often tell you all you need to know about an email without you even opening it, especially when a client replies to your original email. The body of your emails should only explain what your subject already establishes.
Technology tools to leverage
The following tools will help you get out of your inbox when communicating, or make better use of your inbox when you must use email:
Google (Apps, Groups), Office 365, Smartsheet, Zendesk
Email (Gmail or Office 365)
Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Karbon
Slack, Yammer, Karbon
Industry-specific to accountants
Each tool is excellent at either making your communications more efficient or lending visibility across the work. Of all those mentioned, Karbon is the only one that is specific to the accounting industry. However, it also incorporates a number of capabilities of the other tools.
Bringing it all together
How you communicate is as important as what you communicate. To work collaboratively as a team, you must eliminate communication silos, foster a culture of documentation, and leverage technology tools that facilitate group conversations through context. By standardizing your communications, your team can work together seamlessly, and by setting expectations and staying consistent with protocols, you can effectively train clients how to communicate with you—which brings the focus back to the work itself.