By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
Guest post by Chuck Manganiello of AuditSense. Some great advice here no matter what your service or specialty.
CPA firms have been looking for ways to improve their professionals productivity since the days of the abacus. Technological advancements have certainly helped firms perform engagements in less time. However, no matter what technology is developed or professional standards are issued, the core concern in any professional services firm boils down to the fact that the client frequently throws a wrench in the best laid plans. I recently heard a CPA jokingly say, “If I did not have to deal with clients, I would have plenty of time to get my work done!”
We were all taught at the associate level to inform clients of the documents needed and the deadline for submission well in advance. But this is just the beginning of the process. The key question is what do you do when the client does not complete the items on your list as instructed. If you only had one client and did not have to worry about profitability or deadlines, the answer would be simple. Complete the work when they are ready. But since you’d go out of business with that philosophy, there has to be a better way.
Some call it client management; I like to call it client collaboration. Making your clients feel as if they are an integral part of the process is fundamental to success.
Client collaboration is a lot easier if you connect with the person you are working with at the client site. I have news for you, if you do not enjoy working with your client, they can tell. It shows in your body language, your facial expressions, your voice and your actions. If you appear to be bothered by them, they will respond in kind.
But all is not lost. You can do a variety of things to connect with your client and ensure a smoother process.
Client collaboration starts by building relationships. Often, clients view their auditor just like any other vendor. Your job is to change their opinion of you and your role so they recognize the value you bring to their company and see you as an important resource. Following are some simple things you can do to strengthen your client relationships.
- Look for ways to help them out – on both a professional and personal level.
- Go out of your way to help them.
- No matter how busy you are – allocate some time every week to building and improving these relationships.
In his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie said that you cannot make someone do anything they do not want, and everyone wants to feel a degree of self-worth in whatever profession they work in.
Letting the client know they are important to you and your firm is critical. Here are a few simple tips.
- Tell them you really enjoy working with them.
- Send them a short handwritten thank you note after the engagement is completed.
- A box of chocolates or similar item works wonders.
Be flexible in what you ask from your clients. This does not mean that they can ignore your requests, but asking them how “we can solve the problem together” works wonders. Let them know you share in their pain and are willing and able to help them.
Resiliency is also an important part of collaboration. If you have a setback – and you most likely will – regroup and plan how to get back on track. Don’t hesitate to approach a more experienced partner or manager to get advice on the best way to handle the situation.
When you successfully collaborate with your clients, share these successes with the other professionals in your firm. If your tactic works, repeat it. If an idea does not work, don’t necessarily quit. It may be a great idea that just needs to be tweaked a bit, or it may work beautifully with another client.
Negotiate with the client by working through the situation step by step:
- Ask a lot of open-ended questions. Find out why the information they promised has not yet been provided. Listen, listen and listen some more. Is there a hidden message in what they are sharing with you?
- Show empathy towards their situation.
- Tactfully share your knowledge with them. Perhaps you experienced a similar situation with another client. How was the obstacle overcome? Is there a technological solution that can help them prepare the information more easily?
- Be patient and show your concern for their situation, and collectively create an action plan that will work for both of you. Perhaps, they promised to prepare X. You then offer to do Y.
I recently read a great article entitled “Changing your Tune.” It was about a person who served on a company’s board of directors that simply didn’t get along with anyone. As the author said, “The only redemptive trait was how lovingly he spoke to, and about, his grandchildren. To hear him tell it, they actually loved him.”
See, everyone has a redeeming value – your challenge is to find it.