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Running a business

5 tips for successful client communications

It might sound funny when you say it, but working with clients has a lot in common with training a puppy. My colleague Sherri-Lee Mathers recently wrote a series of business lessons she learned from bringing home a new puppy, but didn’t even touch on this point!

Entire books could be, and have been, written on how to best communicate with clients. But if your schedule is as packed as mine, here are five of the most important things you can work on right now to immediately improve your client communications skills and successful outcomes.

1.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

From your tone of voice to the words you choose, how you say things is just as important as what you say. This also applies to which method of communication you choose to use. Some clients love talking on the phone, while others prefer texting and email. Some may always want to see you on video and others hate video chats.

It’s part of your job to communicate effectively with your clients, which means learning the impact of what you say, how you say it, and what channel you deliver the message on. Simply asking your clients what they prefer can be a great first step to better communications.

2.  Choose the right place and time for the conversation

You wouldn’t try to talk business at a funeral, or at least I hope you wouldn’t! So you need to apply the same principles to client conversations. If your client is a restaurant owner, avoid conversations on Friday morning when they’re getting ready for the weekend rush. You would just be adding another layer of pain and stress to the client before a hectic weekend. 

When trying to determine the right place and time for a conversation, consider these factors:

  • Is this my client’s busiest time of the month or year?
  • Does this conversation need to happen ASAP or can we schedule it at their convenience?
  • What time of day or day of the week is most conducive for this type of conversation?
  • Is this a conversation that needs to happen in person, face-to-face, on video, or is there some other form of communication more appropriate?
  • Are there other extenuating circumstances or outside factors that would make this conversation more difficult?

It's also a good idea to prepare your client for a potentially challenging conversation instead of just springing it on them. Let them know a little of what your meeting will be about without causing a complete panic that gives them sleepless nights until the meeting happens. A line I’ll use is, “You don’t need to panic, this isn’t an emergency. But when would be a good time to have a conversation about X?”

3.  Make sure you’re (really) listening as much, or more, than you talk

Raise your hand if you like to hear the sound of your own voice, or think you’re a highly qualified expert on literally everything. It’s OK! Just be aware of your own tendencies. 

It’s really important that clients feel listened to and truly heard. They might come to you with questions, and it’s possible they really do want to hear detailed answers. But it’s also possible that their questions are clues to what they’re really thinking, feeling, or afraid of, and you’ll get further by asking them follow-up questions and listening, than just sharing your encyclopedic accounting knowledge.

4.  Treat each client as an individual

Every one of these tips really comes back to this one. You won’t be successful if you paint all clients with the same brush. This is my special sauce that brings clients to me for concierge-level accounting services, rather than a bookkeeper or CPA who performs their job mechanically, even if it’s very well. Yes, I’m great at what I do, but my clients value the individual attention and emotional connection they get with me.

Some firms, particularly the larger ones, believe they can’t afford to give this kind of individual attention to their clients. I’m here to tell you that you can’t afford not to! When you create the kind of relationship that makes you a highly-in-demand advisor, you can charge what your time is worth. If you’re curious about how to do this in your practice, I’m hosting a new Roundtable with Roundtable Labs called “Required to Desired” where we’ll help you do just that.

5. Work on one thing at a time

Communications is an evolving process. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll know it when you feel uncomfortable, experience awkward silence, or get a negative reaction from a client. Don’t stress over it! Regroup with yourself and reflect on the conversation. Then choose one thing to try to do differently next time.

It’s important to only experiment with one change at a time so you know what works and what doesn’t. Maybe you learn that certain words are triggering, a client does much better at a different time of day or night, or the inflection in your voice is questionable. Simply focus on improving one element of your communication, and then continue the feedback cycle with yourself and your clients. Even if you don’t get it perfectly right all the time, your clients will appreciate knowing that you’re trying to be the best communicator you can be with them.

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