6 Ways to Deal With Difficult Tax and Accounting Clients

Client Relationships Three serious-looking businesspeople having a meeting at work

Client service is the cornerstone of business. All of the business journals tell you that treating clients well will have them singing your praises, but treat them badly and your business will probably suffer.

What do you do when the client is a royal pain in the you-know-what, but you still want to maintain your good reputation in the community and online? Here are six tips to help you navigate those waters gracefully and, hopefully, not get that bad review on Yelp.

  1. Prequalify your clients. My first rule of thumb is to make sure every client you potentially serve is actually a good fit for your firm. Don’t be afraid to ask several questions to gain insights into, and about, their current issues or concerns so you can make sure you can help them. For example, ask if there are any deadlines so you can check your current schedule and workload to make sure you can meet their targets. In my business, I also use this time to tell them about my practice, and policies and procedures. I tell all potential clients that I’m a cloud-based, paperless office, and that in order to work with me effectively, they need to have access to a scanner, fax machine and working internet. This way, we both agree not to engage in a business relationship if they aren’t comfortable with technology or any of my other office policies.
  2. Sleep on it or tell a friend/colleague. Every once in a while, we get a nasty email or voicemail from a client that just makes you want to blow your top. Instead of hitting reply right away, sleep on it. If you do decided to draft an email, hit save instead of send. That way, you can reread it the next day with a clearer mind, ensuring you don’t fly off the handle unnecessarily. Another suggestion is to let one of your friends or colleagues read and edit your response before you hit send in order to take out any unnecessary emotional responses and/or personal attacks. You’ll want to focus on finding a mutually agreeable solution for you and the client.
  3. Communicate. At times, clients are irate because they haven’t heard from us, or they may be misinterpreting our tone over email or text. Pick up the phone and let the client explain their issues. Your job is to really listen and not speak! Don’t use this conversation to defend anything. After the client is done speaking, reiterate what you believe you heard about their concerns, and either address each concern with a potential solution or ask the client if you can follow up in a day or two with another call. You can also use this call to manage any unrealistic expectations they may have. Now and then, clients don’t completely understand what services they are receiving; they may have been expecting the world when, in actuality, they only paid for a small city. Feel free to reiterate the services outlined in their engagement letter and the ones you provide.
  4. Don’t argue back. I’ve learned that it takes two people to have an argument. Let the client yell, and then calmly explain that you are willing to hold a conversation in a normal tone to hear them out and come up with a plan to move forward. Or, they can come back to your office or call back when they have composed themselves. If they still can’t do this or is being violent or aggressive, don’t hesitate to get the authorities involved. After all, the safety of you and your staff is most important.
  5. Fire the client. Sometimes, you just need to let go. You can respectfully fire a client by giving them timely notice that you will no longer work with them. Make sure you deliver the work they paid you for or offer a full refund for services you didn’t deliver. As a kind gesture, you can go the extra mile by offering a few referrals to other providers. By taking this extra step, you show the client that even though you personally couldn’t work with them, you understand they have needs that still need to be met. This goodwill may earn you a few brownie points in the long run.
  6. It’s not always about you. At times, clients either have negative past experiences or personal issues going on in their lives that makes them a little grouchy – to put it mildly. Don’t be afraid to ask if everything is okay. You never know if the client just needs an ear to listen. This act of kindness proves you not only care about their finances, but you also care about them as a person. I know we aren’t therapists and don’t have much time to listen to them, especially during tax season, but a few extra minutes of your time can make the world of difference.

As tax professionals and accountants, we want to make sure our clients value and respect us, even though we may only see them once a year. If you follow these rules, you may turn even the meanest of clients into a soft teddy bear who sings your praises to everyone they know. You’ll not only earn more business, but also a better client base.

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  1. Thank you for your insight. I’m thinking these rules of thrumb can be applied to not only tax professionals but in other areas of business as well.

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