How to Maintain Effective E-Communication With Your Clients
As an accountant or bookkeeper, your clients rely on you to provide them with accurate and reliable financial information while they focus on growing their businesses. The information you provide them helps them make important decisions that have a direct impact on their businesses. While many of us work remotely, we often underestimate the complexity of e-communication, and discount its importance in maintaining and fostering long-term relationships with clients.
It’s important to recognize that managing effective e-communication is a bit of an art. While your clients want to be kept in the loop, they also don’t want lengthy, detailed emails. They want to know everything, but they don’t want to read much.
So, how do you manage these seemingly competing objectives? It all starts with establishing clear expectations, being consistent in how you communicate with clients and using the right tools for communication.
Outline Communication Practices Early
Your contract with a new client shouldn’t just be an outline of the fees you’re charging and a list of responsibilities you’re taking on. It should also include a comprehensive overview of what your client can expect in all aspects of your relationship, as well as the choice of communication and touch points.
When duties are handled remotely, staying in touch can be much more challenging. You must find a balance between keeping your client in the loop and over-communicating. When establishing agreements with new clients, you must outline all details regarding how and when communication will occur between you and the client. Clear expectations set the tone for your relationship and ensure that there are no surprises in the relationship. Given our profession, I think we can all agree that clients do not want surprises!
Be sure to address:
- How often you’ll make contact.
- How you will make contact, and for what purposes – for example, video conferencing for periodic check-in meetings versus email for monthly updates.
- All available avenues for contact and preferred order of escalation.
- Emergency protocols.
- Availability and timelines for responses.
By kicking off this relationship on the right foot, you and your clients will have clear expectations of each other, reducing the risk of miscommunication or perceived bad service that would negatively impact your relationship.
At Enkel, we like to do check-ins with our clients on a weekly basis to update them on our progress. To do that, we scheduled meetings to respect our client’s time, while giving them the opportunity to gather their thoughts before diving into the conversation.
The logistics behind scheduling varies from client to client, but should be clearly outlined in your contract. You can easily maintain clarity with your clients through calendar invites and reminders so that no appointments are missed. While communication can occur on a need-to-know basis, it’s always more professional to schedule an actual time to speak with your clients.
Use the Right Tools
Technology opens many doors in the field of electronic communication, allowing businesses to collaborate remotely. Applications like Slack and Google Hangouts can help you keep in touch with your clients regardless of time or place.
At Enkel, we are always on the lookout for new technology that can make our processes more efficient and effective. The goal is to save time on redundant activities and redirect that time to activities that have greater value to our clients. Practice management software such as Karbon can go far here, providing ways to standardize communication and minimize the frequency of communication.
With checklist functions that clearly outline the client’s tasks and deadlines, we are able to speed up the communication process while clearly stating what is required from the client to get the books done. This also creates clear accountability, giving clients the confidence that their work is being effectively managed and that no important details are being forgotten.
Effective e-communication is essential to your success in a modern, value-driven accounting practice. By clarifying expectations, outlining communication policies in your contract and utilizing the best in practice management technology, it is possible to balance competing objectives that e-communication often presents us with.