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Teaching Your Clients How to Work With You

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Part of creating an awesome client experience involves spending time ensuring your clients truly know how to work with you. In the third installment of her series on "unreasonable and demanding clients," bookkeeper Billie Anne Grigg uses her extensive experience to help accounting and finance professionals turn difficult client relationships into positive ones.

May 25th 2021
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In the previous installment in this series, I explained how CPAs and finance professionals can help “unreasonable and demanding” clients become less so by alleviating their fear and confusion. We do this by being a good host: Every time we engage with a new client or prospect, or whenever we engage with an existing client differently, we must meet them where they are, help them settle in and make sure they are comfortable.

This process can require a lot of touch points and quite a bit of hand-holding, which many accountants and bookkeepers fear will establish bad behaviors in the client. In fact, the opposite is true. By taking the time early on in the relationship to establish trust and rapport, you are laying the groundwork for a satisfying relationship for both you and your client.

However, there does come a point where you will need to transition your client from this initial stage of the relationship. This transition phase can make or break your relationship with the client, and so it must be handled with care.

Avoid the Hard Stop

There’s a tendency for accountants and bookkeepers as well as other service providers who focus heavily on the onboarding process to ignore the client experience after onboarding has been completed. This causes clients to experience a “hard stop,” which can lead to that unreasonable and demanding behavior we are trying to avoid.

Let’s look at this from the client’s perspective. They have had regular contact with you for several weeks or, in some cases, for several months. You’ve had phone conversations with them to sell them your services, you’ve sent them a welcome gift and you’ve traded emails with them to collect the information you need...in other words, they’ve gotten a lot of you.

And then, it stops. From your perspective, the “hard work” is done, and you can start to really focus on doing some valuable work for the client. But your client doesn’t see this. All they know is that they’ve gone from frequent conversations with you to radio silence. To the client, you seem to have forgotten about them, so they start asking for updates before they are due, or they ask for “spur of the moment” tasks to be completed.

In other words, they become unreasonable and demanding.

Instead of Stomping on the Brakes...

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to prevent this from happening: teach your client throughout the onboarding process how working with you will look after onboarding has been completed.

You might be thinking to yourself, “I spell all that out in the engagement letter!” And I’m sure you do. The problem is, your client doesn’t remember the engagement letter. They just experience the loss of your seemingly undivided attention.

In each conversation you have with your client during onboarding, remind them that they are still in the onboarding phase of your relationship. Then, plant the seeds about how your relationship with them will look after onboarding.

If you’re speaking with the client weekly during onboarding, remind them to schedule their ongoing monthly or quarterly calls with you on their calendar so they don’t forget about them after you’re no longer speaking weekly. If you push to complete something for the client ahead of schedule during onboarding, let them know you might not always be able to accommodate such requests going forward.

In other words, set boundaries while you are accommodating your new client. Not only will this curb the potential for unreasonable and demanding behavior after onboarding has been completed, but it will also make them even more appreciative of the onboarding process.

When That Doesn’t Work

I’d love to say this approach works 100 percent of the time, but it doesn’t. Sometimes a client will still exhibit unreasonable and demanding behavior. In the next article in this series, we’ll explore how your ongoing customer experience can help prevent this.

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