Building trust and cultivating meaningful relationships is essential to building a loyal client base and fruitful practice. As accountants, we already have a leg up due to the very nature of our profession. In history and culture, we are generally seen as highly trustworthy, acting as stewards to our clients and community, abiding by the rules, and working in the best interest of our clients.
This credence certainly speaks to the technical side of what we do with our clients and may give us a foundation, but it still takes time and effort to build a strong client bond. As an accountant in the industry for more than 30 years, I’d like to share some key best practices essential to building and preserving trust with clients.
Take the Time to Get to Your Clients and Really Listen
I got into accounting by accident. My mother is a CPA. I began my career entering data into Lotus spreadsheets during busy season as Mom and her bookkeeper prepared financials and tax returns in her small two-person office. My mother is the type of person who really takes the time to get to know someone and doesn’t hurry the process. She built many long-lasting client relationships and friendships in her practice. As a result, she taught me very early on that you must get to know your client beyond gaining an understanding of their financial and tax situation in order to provide them with exceptional service.
These types of interactions don’t necessary come easily to everyone. It can be a challenge – and sometimes awkward – to get your clients to open up to you. It can also be difficult for you to remember facts and other details about their personal and professional lives, but there are some steps you can take to help you make more of these interactions.
- Use a customer relationship management (CRM) app. In an app, store notes and details about your client. I’m currently using PipeDrive, but also looking at Karbon and Insightly to see if they are a better fit for me. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated. In fact, my good friend Barry MacQuarrie uses the contact feature on his iPhone to jot down notes about his clients and other contacts. He includes names, dates and other important details that may present an opportunity for him to help them in the future. It can mean a lot to your clients when you remember details about them, such as the names of family members or important events that they told you about during previous conversations. This simple small talk demonstrates you were really listening to them and care about them not only as a client, but as a person.
- Schedule enough time for your meetings. Include buffer time before and after the meeting to allow for delays, unscheduled topics that may arise, and to review and update notes about your client.
- Resist the urge to interrupt. When someone is sharing personal or financial details with another person and looking for advice, it’s easy to want to jump in quickly with a response or solution. When you interrupt, your client can lose their train of thought and the opportunity to express something important to them. The art of listening takes effort and practice, but its mastery is vital to building trust.
Communicate in Their Language
Most accounting pros spent two or more years learning the language of accounting. We love talking shop and using terms such as debit and credit, reconciliation, and KPIs; some of us even have funny shirts and mugs that celebrate of our jargon.
Here’s the thing: While most clients appreciate our knowledge and vast accounting vocabulary, they don’t want you to use it with them.
I had a client tell me once that he appreciated working with me because I didn’t speak “accountantnese” with him and took the time to explain things in terms he understood. Instead of saying “distribution,” say “took money out of the company.” Or, instead of “depreciation,” say “the current year expense for the equipment you bought last year.” Taking the time to explain things and to make sure clients understand what they need to know goes a long way in building trust because it shows a higher level of respect and care. Try writing the notes you’ll go over with your client using everyday words, and refer back to them during your conversation.
Be Consistent and Proactive
Accounting pros love to put processes in place and get them humming along like a well-oiled machine – one of the most valuable benefits of working with us. Repeating the same process continually can also lead to complacency, and sometimes new business situations can get overlooked because the existing process doesn’t include steps to detect changes. Make sure your process includes steps to inquire about changes, and be ready to step in to offer additional services or make a referral.
Being proactive with your clients builds trust because your client feels that you are attentive even when you aren’t working directly with them. Forwarding your client an article you’ve read that you think will interest them or benefit their business shows you understand them, and are willing to go the above and beyond to help. Reach out to your clients with news about changes in tax reform or upcoming opportunities before they’ve heard about them from the news or someone else. This approach strengthens your client relationships because it instills the notion that you are on top of things and well informed.
Be True to Yourself and Your Values
One of the partners at the last firm I worked for said something to me I really admired – and it stuck with me. He used to tell me when we were courting new clients or sometimes ending relationships with them that we “weren’t for everyone.” What he meant was that our firm’s core values were solid and that we would never compromise these values just to land a client.
Trust in any relationship is built on mutual values and the assumption that each party will stay true to them. The best advice I can give in building trust with clients is to always stay firm to your core values and communicate them clearly to your clients. The right clients for your firm will respect and admire your conviction. With this, you’ll create a great foundation for trust.