How will clients feel after the pandemic is over?

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Think about how much time you and your colleagues are spending keeping abreast of all the new deadlines and stimulus programs. Imagine how hard it must be for your clients to keep up. Just because a client hasn’t called you specifically about the dizzying changes in this pandemic economy, don’t assume they fully understand what’s going on.

In a crisis like this, you’ve got to do more than send out a few client emails with links to IRS and government websites. You should be picking up the phone and asking your best clients directly, “Do you have any questions about how all the new changes and stimulus programs apply to you?” It’s a 10-minute call at best. In a few hours, you should be able to touch base with every single one of your best clients.

As a professional, you’re in a unique position to assimilate all the new tax rules and information quickly. It’s your job. Most clients cannot do this — nor do they want to. That’s why they hire you. Don’t succumb to the “curse of knowledge” — explaining things in an insider way that makes it too difficult for your retail clients to understand.

Don’t just tell clients about PPP, EIDL, FFCRA, etc. That’s just the WHAT. You need to explain to them the SO WHAT and the NOW WHAT — i.e., what all the changes mean to them and how your firm can help them move forward. If nothing else, be honest with clients. Let them know there aren’t a lot of clear-cut answers right now.

Let clients focus their energy on how they’re going to recreate their businesses, re-hire their employees and become stronger during this crisis and beyond. Your job is to let them know how all the moving parts of the CARES Act and tax filing changes will impact them. Again, they hire you to make their lives easier.

Three years from now, what will clients say about the way you guided them through the crisis? Fast forward a few years from now, and hopefully the pandemic and recession will be in the history books. But clients are still going to remember how you made them feel during the crisis. Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So, how do you think your clients feel about you right now? When they reflect on this crisis a few years from now, what do you think they’ll tell other people about how you made them feel when the s--t hit the fan, and the Fear/Volatility Index was at an all-time high? Were you too busy getting returns done, or were you on the phone with clients reassuring them: “These are the things we don’t know yet, but I promise you we’re going to get you the answers you need.”? No one has those answers but clients want to know you’ve got their back financially. They want to know you’ve got the money issues under control so they can go back to doing what they do best — running their business.

Are you practicing empathy? Are you explaining things in simple English so clients can understand? If you want to be a client’s most trusted advisor, empathy and clarity are skills you must develop.

If you’ve been reaching out the right way, you should be absolutely exhausted after a day of having deep conversations with clients. I know it’s emotionally draining. But these kinds of discussions are incredibly powerful for cementing long-term relationships. If you’re not dead-tired, maybe you should rethink the types of conversations you’re having with clients.

You have a chance to deliver a lifetime’s worth of value in just a few months. Clients pay a trusted advisor not only to get compliance work done, but to mobilize during emergencies. Right now, they need you!

I know many of you like to have things buttoned up by this time of year. But this is not your typical busy season. There aren’t many simple black and white answers to the frightening questions your clients are facing. There’s going to be a lot more ambiguity than you’re used to. There are a lot more unknowns. As the trusted advisor, clients don’t expect you to have all the answers. They call you for reassurance and for help navigating the unknown. That’s what drives your value.

My article 50 shades of CPA gray has more about dealing with ambiguity.

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Client relations Coronavirus Client communications Practice management Client retention