Client communication during busy season

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Take a quick look at the email exchange below:

Charla: “Kyle, can you do a call at 9 am tomorrow?”

Kyle: “I have a meeting at 9. How about 8:30?”

Charla: “That should be fine. You will call Larry’s cell phone at ...”

Seems pretty routine, right?

This is where professional service firms tend to slip—the day-to-day back and forth with clients—especially when a firm is under time pressure. Granted, we all make mistakes and I’ll talk about owning up to them in my next article. The point is, emails like these are loaded with language that could be off-putting to your client and could negatively impact your relationship.

Faux pas #1: “Should” is one of the worst words you can use in an email setting. What’s wrong with the word “should”? First of all, I don’t know if I should reach back out for a confirmation or not. Does this time work, or does it not? This language is just going to require more communication that wastes my time. As a professional advisor, you’re supposed to be saving clients’ time, not wasting it.

Faux pas #2: “Fine.” My wife and I have been together for almost 20 years. For me, “Fine” is the scariest word in the English dictionary! It can mean anything from “barely acceptable” to “I don’t have the energy to tell you again what I really want.”

Faux pas #3 and #4: What’s wrong with saying, “You will call Larry’s cell phone”? Pretty abrupt, don’t you think? Sounds like a summons rather than a call that’s being facilitated for the client’s benefit.

Think about how many emails you send each day and week. Now multiply that by the number of employees you have. We’re talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of client touches going out there with your firm’s brand and reputation on the line. Needless to say, you might want to re-think your external client communication policy.

Remember, the No. 1 reason that people leave their CPA firm is because they didn’t feel valued—it’s not because they didn’t get a correct tax return or because they had a problem with the firm’s fees. When clients get an email like the one above, they may not think it was overtly rude. But, they do start to feel marginalized—like they’re not an important client for the firm.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. As the old saying goes, “The little things are the big things.” Just tweaking five or six little words can change the entire tenor of your message. That’s a big deal. Four little words make a huge difference.

To fix faux pas #1 and #2, instead of typing “should be fine,” why not say, “That time will work great”? See the difference?

To fix faux pas #3 and #4, instead of typing, “You will call Larry’s cell phone,” how about, “Please call Larry’s cell phone”? One less word and a huge difference in tone.

Now here’s what a better version of the email looks like: “That will be great. Please call Larry’s cell phone.”

As leaders of your organizations, you need to be thinking about how every single member of your firm communicates with every single client. Yes, it’s a big deal. At the end of the day, we’re all writers. We may not have press passes, but we’re all professional communicators.

Clients rarely complain about their CPA’s intelligence or technical competence. They don’t really care how much you know about Section 199 or the nuances of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. All they understand is how you communicate with them and how you make them feel.

Be hyper-aware about how you and your team communicate with clients. It’s often what makes the difference between having a satisfied client and a dissatisfied client. The manner in which you communicate with clients is often what drives their decision to stay with your firm (and make referrals) or to move on.

Everybody’s incredibly busy, especially at this time of year. But it’s not your client’s problem if you’re feeling overloaded or having a bad day. You can always spend a few extra seconds to think about how you are typing responses to your clients. Remember, those emails are a permanent record of your firm’s brand and reputation.

At the end of the day, communicating well with our clients is absolutely the most important thing you do. When you think about how many emails and other communication you (and your staff) have with clients each year, it has a tremendous bearing on how your firm is perceived by the clients you serve.

Respond promptly. Be courteous. Always make clients feel valued. It’s the little things that clients remember when your invoice arrives after tax season.

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Client communications Client retention Client relations Client strategies Tax practice