Listening to clients

It is often said that we have two ears and one mouth, and should use them in that proportion. What this means is that good communication is more about listening than it is about speaking. Every accountant knows that client-centred firms are more likely to retain clients than are technically oriented firms. Why? Because client-centred firms listen to their clients!

Generally, partners interact with their clients on an ad hoc basis, discussing issues as and when they arise, and try to assess their feelings and reactions based on these brief encounters. The problem is that few people wear their emotions on their sleeve, and even fewer business people display their true thoughts and feelings publicly. In fact, they train themselves not to!

Most clients who are considering changing accountants tend to keep their thoughts to themselves. Surveys show that only 5% of clients who changed accountants admitted to their accountant the real reason for the change.

While your day-to-day contact with clients might give you an insight into their finances, it tells you very little about their feelings or intentions. To understand these you must make a special effort to solicit responses through careful questioning, and learn to read other signs such as eye movements and body language.

You may start off with a relatively close rapport with your clients, but as your firm grows there will be a danger that you will become increasingly remote from them, and less sensitive to their concerns. Many firms experience infrastructure problems during periods of growth, and it is very easy at such times to allow the quality of service to slip.

Clients are more sophisticated these days. They are becoming increasingly skilled at product and service comparisons, and know how to scan the marketplace for what they want. Rising internet use has also contributed to this, with clients being able to search more frequently online for firms and particular services. It is becoming much harder to take client loyalty for granted.

To make matters worse, accounting firms are becoming much more active in prospecting for new business – and in the accounting profession gaining new business for yourself usually means taking it away from someone else.

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