3 Steps to Better Client Communication
As an accountant, you can identify key problems in your clients’ businesses in an instant, but communicating those problems -- and the solutions -- to your clients can pose a bigger challenge.
In order to become your clients’ favorite trusted advisor, you must be able to communicate with them in a way they can understand. How can you do this when it seems as though you and your clients are speaking completely different languages?
The obvious solution is to learn to speak your clients’ language. Like learning to speak any language, there are a few tips and tricks you can employ to ensure you and your clients can communicate more effectively.
1. Avoid Using Jargon
Most of us know we should remove the accounting lingo from our vocabulary while speaking with our clients, but few of us are successful in completely eradicating it. Many of the accountants and bookkeepers I work with believe it is incumbent upon the client to learn at least basic accounting terminology in order to understand their business numbers.
The most effective advisors will determine ways to replace accounting terminology with terms the client understands. This does not mean you have to talk down to your clients; in fact, the opposite is true.
In order to effectively advise your clients, you must meet them where they are while honoring who they are: intelligent business owners. This leads us to my next tip.
2. Speak Your Clients’ Language Through Immersion
We have all heard the benefits of having a niche focus in your practice. A niche focus allows you to market more effectively, streamline your processes, and standardize your workflow. It also allows you to learn your clients’ industry inside and out, and that includes their vocabulary.
An effective way to eliminate accounting jargon from your conversations with your clients is to replace the language of accounting with the language of your clients’ business. Having an intimate knowledge of your clients’ industry means you will understand the terms they hear and use every day.
If you can incorporate this into your conversations with them, not only will your clients understand you better, you will delight them because you care enough to speak their language. If you don’t have an industry focus, don’t despair. You can achieve a similar effect by learning about your clients’ personal interests and incorporating terminology about those interests in your conversations.
3. Talk About the Things Your Clients Find Important
If you have spent any time with a child, you have likely had lengthy conversations about things that don’t seem important to you. To the child, though, these are very important topics.
If you take the time to listen to and engage with the child about what he or she finds important, you have a much greater chance of effectively communicating with her about things you find important. This is not to imply your clients are children or the things they want to discuss are trivial.
However, like children, we all want to feel heard. When we feel heard, we are more likely to listen.
You may see a diminishing bottom line and determine cutting expenses should be the focus of your conversation with your client. Your client, however, wants to talk about the new employee he plans to hire.
Hiring a new employee seems like the worst possible move to you, because your client is obviously already bleeding money. You may even cut your client short in your attempt to get him to see reason. However, your client may have a completely different concern.
No matter how much you know about your client’s financials, never forget your client knows his or her business better than you ever will. Many accountants are tempted to believe they can fully understand their clients’ businesses just by analyzing their financial statements. This is simply not true.
If your client tells you he needs to hire a new employee, don’t rush to tell him he can’t afford it based on his bottom line. Instead, ask why he needs to hire a new employee. Does he have new contracts coming in?
This could be a good time to discuss efficiencies and workflows with your client. Is customer service lagging due to workload?
Maybe a price increase is in order. Is he planning on launching a new product? You can help him set up the appropriate tracking in his bookkeeping software.
Always take any opportunity you see to learn more about your clients’ businesses. Even if it seems as though your client is heading down a wrong path, listen to his reasoning. It could be you are the one jumping to a wrong conclusion.
Effective communication with your clients is the key to becoming their favorite trusted advisor. In order to communicate effectively, you and your clients must first speak the same language. You can get there by avoiding accounting jargon, using terminology your clients already understand, and talking about the things your clients find important.
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Billie Anne Grigg has been a bookkeeper since before the turn of the century (this one, despite what her children think). She is a QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor, LivePlan Expert Advisor, and a Mastery Level Certified Profit First Professionals. She is also a guide (coach) for the Profit First Professionals organization. Billie Anne started...