10 Reasons to Meet with Clients in Person
With the arrival of the digital age and the convenience of tools like email, it’s easy for accountants to become detached from their clients. However, face-to-face meetings are still important.
To illustrate why, let’s discuss another industry that faced the same challenge.
The Bad Old Days of the Financial Services Industry
To understand why accounting professionals need more face time with clients, you need to know more about the financial services industry.
Years ago, business was transactional. Clients paid commissions when they bought and sold stock. Advisors were in frequent contact, making suggestions. This brought up the issue of conflict of interest: Was the trade in the best interests of the advisor, who wants to earn commissions, or the client, who wants to grow their money consistent with their risk tolerance?
The Dawn of Fee-Based Accounts
Then, managed money came along, followed by fee-based accounts. Out went bills for each transaction, and in came a steady revenue stream based on the assets under management. Some advisors thought: “Great! I never have to talk to these people anymore! I’ll still be paid!”
They missed the point. Freed from the conflict of transaction-based pricing, they were on the same side of the table. They had the time to get to know their client better, learn about their hopes and dreams and help them get there. It was said: “You are being paid to do the right thing.”
How Does This Apply to Accountants?
Accountants are often stereotyped as introverts, more comfortable with numbers than people. (Don’t be alarmed, the stereotypes for lawyers, real estate agents and insurance brokers are a lot worse!) And digital technology means clients no longer need to bring in shoeboxes and manila folders with documentation. You can file their returns online. In many cases, they don’t even need to sign anything. You can have a virtual relationship with your clientele.
This might sound attractive, but it isn’t.
Ten Reasons You Should See More of Your Clients
You’ve heard the phrase “Out of sight, out of mind.” Long-distance relationships get people thinking about alternatives, and technology may encourage this. Many people file their own returns electronically. If they don’t see you, they may start to wonder why they need you.
Here are ten reasons you should continue to schedule face-to-face meetings with your clients:
- Remind Them of Your Value
Tell the story about how you add value to the relationship. Remind them how you helped them, saved them money. Give them a story they can tell others who voice dissatisfaction with their tax situation.
- Make Sure They Understand Your Services
If all you did was file individual tax returns, it’s tough to make a living when competition drives down pricing. Does your client know and understand what you do and how you help people? They need to see the big picture and hear about your value-added services.
- Obtain Referrals
So far, so good: They now see the big picture. But do they know you are still adding clients? Do they know the type of person you help? You want them to recognize an opportunity where you might be able to help an individual they know and bring your name into the conversation.
- Sense Changes
Sitting across from a person communicates more information than any other method. Honest, frank conversations will let you know if your client is facing downsizing or thinking about early retirement. Frequent meetings give a sense of the strength of their marriage or if they have a child is on the way. These all affect their financial and tax situations.
- Get Information About Their Spouse
Text, phone and e-mail conversations are usually one to one, often between the decision maker and the professional providing services. The spouse is often left out of the loop or only included when “both of you need to sign.” You are often seen as the accountant to one but not both parties. This becomes an immediate problem when your contact person dies first. The relationship with the survivor often needs to start from scratch. Face-to-face meetings let you get to know both parties.
- Meet the Next Generation
Your client’s children pay taxes and will inherit their estate someday. If you aren’t taking care of their accounts, either someone else is or they are going it alone. The easiest referral a satisfied client can provide is an introduction to their own children.
- Ask Questions
Some people conceal important information. Others don’t mention it because they assume it’s unimportant. Face-to-face meetings are an opportunity to pick up on visual and verbal clues. It’s also a chance to answer questions like: Do they sell on eBay? Run weekly yard sales? Consult or write on the side? About to starting a business? Are they adequately planning for retirement? All these activities affect their tax situation.
- Offer Advice on Investments
Many people like to invest their money as a way to save for retirement, but not all investments are made through a licensed professional. In fact, some are Internet scams. You can ask about investments your client is considering and warn them off ones that sound unwise.
- Do Some Quarterbacking
Many people with money like the idea of a team that looks after them. Private bankers, for instance, have support staff. Even if they don’t have a fortune, lots of individuals have an accountant, insurance agent, banker and financial advisor helping with their money. But because each professional only sees a portion of the whole picture, they can accidentally work at cross purposes. Someone needs to be the team leader, the quarterback. As a fiduciary, you are best suited for the role, and you should let your client know this.
- Ward Off Competition
The final reason is the simplest. Some people build their business by stealing or luring away a competitor’s clients. Because everyone wants to be considered important, they often start with: “When was the last time you had a face-to-face meeting?” Make sure your client doesn’t feel neglected and can answer this question with a definitive, recent date.
Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but long-term relationships are built on face-to-face contact. Use this to your advantage.
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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.