In earlier posts, we discussed the importance of talking to and with your client: promptly returning phone calls, proactively providing regular updates about their matter, exploring with each individual client their preferred communication methods, and following up to ensure that your message was understood.
Talking to your client is important, but listening is too.
When you make an effort to listen to your client, you become alert to what the client considers important, providing you with opportunities to give excellent service, and with opportunities to stave off trouble.
Listen For Instructions
A common complaint registered against accountants is that they did not follow client instructions. Sometimes this manifests in an accountant pursuing a different path than the client wants. Other times it takes the form of the accountant failing to provide information the client asked for. And now and then, it means you have done more than the client wanted.
If a client provides you with information and instruction, do take the time to review it; and then follow up accordingly. Do read the long cover email that accompanies the client’s delivery of requested documents; and acknowledge it the next time you interact. If you feel that the client’s desires or actions are not in his or her best interests, discuss that and explain why you think they should go a different way. If you disagree with some other of the client’s advisors—her lawyer, for instance—speak up, especially if your position would make it difficult with you to follow through with the requested action. But don’t proceed without letting the client know—one of the quickest ways to annoy a client is to ignore them, or to bill them for work they didn’t expect you to do.
Listen For Potential Trouble
In addition to listening to instructions, it is important to also listen for signs of disappointment, confusion, or anger from your client so that you can respond accordingly and, hopefully, nip problems in the bud. To this end, your staff may be your best source of information and first line of defense. Clients may more willingly express their dissatisfaction or concerns to a secretary than to you. So, let your staff know that they should alert you to any apparent dissatisfaction or complaints, and empower everyone in the office to quickly address any situation.
If a client does complain to you or anyone else in the office, you should notify your insurance carrier. This is especially important if there is any suggestion that the client wants their money back, or any other statement that could be interpreted as requesting restitution or damages, as under such circumstances, reporting may be required to ensure coverage should the dispute escalate later on. Moreover, by alerting the insurance company, you may be able to get guidance—including even legal counsel—on how to respond to resolve any actual claim before it ever fully develops.