Most people prefer not to see their service providers nowadays. Bank branches are often empty because people bank online. You can order groceries and have them delivered without entering a supermarket. But distance weakens relationships. Is this the kind of relationship you want with your accounting clients?
As their accounting professional, you rely on them for your livelihood. You also care about their well-being. This is why it's important to maintain face-to-face relationships, even in the Digital Age.
But what exactly is a face-to-face relationship?
At first, the definition seems obvious. You are seated across from the other person. You can hand them papers. You have that kind of relationship with your spouse and your family doctor. A face to face relationship might also be a conversation using Facetime or Skype. In dating, you’ve heard about long-distance relationships. As an accounting professional, you might have a client you’ve met in person, then future conversations take place online with a camera and microphone. This blend of in-person and Skype conversations can work too.
Broadly speaking, in-person conversations are better than Skype calls. Skype calls are better than phone calls, which are better than talking entirely by text or e-mail. Simply put, important relationships are conducted face to face. You visit your family doctor, even if she seems focused on reading numbers off a screen. As an accounting professional, you may be doing individual tax returns, filing for a small business or performing audit work. Here are ten reasons to make sure you actually see your clients:
Strengthen Relationships: When you meet someone, first impressions form instantly. Gradually, you learn about each other. Face-to-face meetings are an opportunity to show your understanding of their situation and identify shared interests.
Value: The professional relationship is strengthened as your client gets to know you as a person.
Pick Up on Non-Verbal Cues: When you step into a client’s office or visit their home, you instantly learn about them. Are they tidy or messy? What pictures and certificates do they have on display? What books are on their shelves?
Value: A messy environment may imply sloppy record keeping. Most important, you can “read” your client through their words, expressions and behavior.
View Interactions: When you meet someone in person, you can see how they interact with other people. For instance, at your firm, are client relationships built on respect or fear? Do they share or hide information?
Value: People with a superior attitude often feel the rules don’t apply to them.
Encourage Honesty: Since you act as an intermediary between your client and the government, you want to protect yourself as well as your client’s interests. When you sit down in front of them, you can look them straight in the eyes and ask the difficult questions.
Value: You prepare filing based on the information you are provided. You want to be as confident as possible you have accurate numbers.
Meet Their Spouse and Children: It happens all the time: Clients pass away, and someone inherits their assets. As their accountant, you seek continuity in relationships. You want to be the family accountant.
Value: You develop relationships, especially with the next generation. They connect a name with a face.
Meet Their Co-Workers: If you are meeting a client at their office, it’s a safe bet there will be other people around. They will likely introduce you and make flattering comments.
Value: Their peers are likely in the same economic bracket. If your client needs an accountant, so do their friends. There’s potential for referrals.
Create a Pathway to Other Business: One thing leads to another. You learn your client is planning to retire in the next few years. This might involve value-added services like retirement planning or business valuation. Your middle manager client might be thinking about starting a small business on the side.
Value: Your client may think of you in a narrowly defined professional context. You can show how you can help in other areas.
Make It Personal: If you are visiting from afar, it may be standard procedure for members of the department to ask you to join them for dinner or drinks.
Value: You learn more about people when food is involved, than you do talking across a desk or in a conference room.
Explain Fees: Ever work with a home improvement contractor? Things often cost more than you expect. More hours are required. Costs can go up year over year. Over the phone, it’s an abstract conversation that can lead to resentment. Face to face, it’s easier to make your point or negotiate, if you feel it’s necessary.
Value: Pricing is a touchy subject. Meeting face to face is a point in your favor.
Become Friends: Actually, you can, but it’s more difficult. In the online banking or grocery shopping examples, it’s easier to switch providers when it’s an anonymous relationship. Once you add into the equation a person you like who’s doing a good job, it becomes much harder.
Value: Face-to-face interactions can help increase the longevity of relationships, especially in difficult financial times.
Many people think it would be ideal to conduct business without ever interacting with clients. But, let me ask you this: Are you married? When you proposed, did you send your future spouse a well written e-mail? Did you propose by text? No. You met face to face, looked them in the eyes and asked: “Will you marry me?” The important things in life are usually done face to face.
This series on the power of face-to-face relationships is bought to you in association with BQE CORE, which uses cutting-edge AI technology to make sure that you are fully up to speed with your client's activity - empowering you to be on top of your game.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.