By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
Photo by Edward Jenner from Pexels
Originally published in AccountingToday.
Writing from my quarantine headquarters, otherwise known as my house, I can confidently say we are in unfamiliar waters. In a profession that is typically relatively predictable, suddenly we are all trying to remain flexible, figure out how to work remotely, and determine just what needs to be communicated and to whom.
Create a crisis communication team
Even the smallest of firms need someone officially in charge of all communications, even if it is only two people: a marketing professional and an accountant. This ensures that messages are technically accurate (the accountant) and written clearly, with empathy and in layman’s terms (the marketer). When news is changing rapidly, this team should meet at least daily to discuss what needs to be said and to which audience.
Additionally, your entire firm should know about this team and establish a protocol for sharing information, making it clear that any mass communication needs to be filtered through this team to ensure consistent, accurate and compassionate firm messaging.
Keep clients informed as much as possible
I know, your firm is not the only business or group sending emails, writing blog posts, distributing newsletters, creating videos and populating social media with COVID-19-related information. But just because others are sending information doesn’t mean your firm gets a pass.
Those in the accounting profession are among the most respected service providers with which individuals, business and other organizations work. An absence of communication is likely to be noticed more than you expect. Clients look to their firm as their own personal experts, and they look to their accountants to clear up confusion regarding shifting deadlines, the availability of financial assistance for small businesses — really anything related to their finances and money.
Be that resource for them by sharing as much information as you can, as often as necessary.
Don’t forget to communicate with employees
We are all concerned right now, including everyone at your firm. Not only should you encourage employees to share information with your communications team to pass on to clients, but remember to send any external communications to them too, ideally in advance of dissemination.
Along with the actual post, I recommend giving them talking points and reference articles, letting them know it is OK to tell clients if they don’t know something. Coach them, though, to remind them to tell the client they will get back to them with an answer. There is no reason for anyone at your firm to Google for answers; be the resource they need so they can focus on their work and know that if questions arise, they have an internal resource finding accurate answers.
Remain flexible and empathetic
Now is not the time for a stiff upper lip or to worry about what people will think if you are dressed casually for that Zoom call (though please change out of your pajamas!). People who are forced to stay at home all of a sudden are looking for human connection and a sense of “we are all in this together.”
At some firms, you may need to coach accountants and advisors to drop their guards and simply connect on a personal level as well as a professional one. People are scared, and many of them, including your clients, may be facing drastically reduced income or making some difficult decisions about layoffs. Client phone calls may be able to serve as a form of therapy, and we all must remain flexible to have these difficult conversations.
You audiences — your clients, both internal and external — will appreciate anything you and your accountants can do to help them remain informed, reduce confusion and provide comfort.