Using effective communication to identify clients needs and expectations in accounting

Many small businesses or sole traders have little experience with accountancy and so at some point will look for support with their financial decisions. This is where your accountancy firm comes in. But in order to meet their needs effectively, you must be able to communicate well to provide them with excellent service.

In this article, we will cover the following methods of using effective communication to identify client needs and expectations:

  • Simply ask
  • Actively listen
  • Talk in their language 
  • Learn from every interaction
  • Take ownership

Simply ask

The easiest way to understand what your client wants from you and expects from your service is to just ask them. 

Build asking about their expectations into your onboarding meeting, when you first meet or speak to the client. This will ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning. 

Once you’ve been dealing with a client for a while, ask them directly for feedback on your service to understand if their needs or wants are changing while you work with them. You could do this on your regular phone calls, in person or via email, whatever method of communication you feel your client prefers, or by using a survey that you send out regularly for feedback. 

By asking for feedback and any areas you can improve, it shows the client that you are invested in improving their experience and relationship with your firm. This will build trust when you respond positively and thank the customer for their honesty for both good and bad feedback.

Actively listen

Sometimes a client won’t give everything away just from you asking, and this is where it takes active listening to understand what they truly want. Try to read between the lines of what the client says, to get to the bottom of what they are looking for. 

For example, they might mention to you that they struggle to keep all their receipts in order. They haven’t outright asked for your help with this, but it gives you an opportunity to ask if they would like support on this time-consuming task, and you can then suggest methods of filing or software that helps them keep track of their receipts easily, like Countingup.

A good rule of thumb in client services is to listen first, then act second. Let the client explain any issues or concerns in their own words, without interruption. When they feel that you have heard the full situation, they will be confident you have all the information to provide the correct solution for them.

To show you’ve really understood, respond by:

  • Paraphrasing (summarising their point)
  • Asking another question to get more detail
  • Using a brief affirmation (such as ‘thank you for taking the time to explain that to me) 

Doing this shows the client you’ve taken in what they said.

Talk in their language

The easiest way to alienate a client is to use terms they don’t understand. They may feel insecure if you start talking in industry language that they are not familiar with, and they may be less likely to build a positive relationship with you.

So when discussing accounting and bookkeeping issues with the client, use terminology that they’ll know or explain what certain terms are so that they are always on the same page as you.

Learn from every interaction

You may speak to your clients a lot, or perhaps they don’t get in touch very often and let you get on with the work. Either way, try to learn something new every time you engage with the client so that you can service their needs more effectively. 

Do they like quick phone calls, or prefer answering in a long email? Maybe they like to give you a list of questions, or they might be time-poor and need you to manage things without their help. This is part of building a strong rapport with them and getting to know how they like to communicate.

Another good exercise is responding to both positive and negative feedback shows you are willing and ready to make changes to improve your client service. Examining your client feedback in this way may highlight areas that you personally can develop, or how the business can change, to better meet the needs of this specific client and potentially other clients too. 

Taking ownership

A sign of bad communication is putting the responsibility on the client to find their own resolution to a query.

When your customer comes to you with an issue, talk them through the process you’ll follow to solve the problem. If you can’t do it yourself, take the burden off the customer and, instead of passing them around different people, tell them that you will find the answers and come back to them.  

Taking the responsibility out of the customer’s hands will make them feel their issue is moving toward resolution. Ownership shows you care about their issue and truly want to solve the problem while saving the client time and effort will also be appreciated. 

Always be transparent and tell them what is going on; if they are left in the dark about what is happening behind the scenes, they might feel insecure and not trust what you are doing – and great client communication is all about building trust.

Part of ownership is seeing every issue through to the very end. Always follow up with your client, and make sure everything is okay after you solve the issue. Some businesses don’t notice the power of following up because they consider the issue to be closed. But the customer will appreciate a follow-up because it shows you care about their experience and in turn this creates a stronger relationship.

Collaborate with your clients better with Countingup

You can save your practice time on manual admin and help your clients keep organised records with Countingup’s free accounting software. It’s built specifically to help you manage small business clients. Not only is it a cost-effective platform for them, but it’s simple for your firm to work from too.

The two in one business current account and accounting app automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin for your clients so they can focus on running their business—and send you accurate, structured data to work with. With instant invoicing, automatic expense categorisation and cash flow insights, your clients will be able to confidently keep accurate daily bookkeeping records.

Countingup’s accounting software is MTD-compatible and full of features for you to review and manage client accounts efficiently, with direct access to their real-time organised data. Find out more here.

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