How to Manage Client Expectations

By Sandi Leyva and Michelle Long, The Ultimate Accounting Virtual Conference Need data by a certain date? Make it clear what happens when you don't get it ... and what it costs.


You’ve accepted a new client and now you have to communicate with that client and set the expectations. So we want to clarify and manage the expectations. We want to make sure we tell the client what information are they supposed to give to us and when, how and in what format. You need to tell the client “I need your receipts to be scanned and input into this folder by the 10th work day of the month” or every week on Thursday – whatever it is.

So keep in mind when you get a new client you have to spend a little time with them up front training them. It’s like having a new puppy right? You have to train them initially, spend more time with them and hopefully they don’t potty all over the floor. So we have to train our clients, spend more time with them up front and give them very specific information. If you want them to scan and upload documents, then do a remote session and log in and show them how to do it and walk them through it how to do it.

The best thing to do when you do a remote session is record it, so when they forget next week what you showed them they can watch the recording again. A free remote access thing that’s quick and easy to use is Join.Me and that way you can log in and see what they’re doing.

You need to tell them what information they need to provide you and you need to specify the date. Make sure you give them due dates. For example, if you want receipts from them and you want the receipts every Thursday or Tuesday or on the 15th and 30th, don’t wait until the end of the month sometimes; you have to give them specific deadlines on when they need to do their stuff.

Also let them know when your work is going to be completed: If you give it to me by “x” date you’ll have up-to-date books the next week or two weeks or whatever. This one is very important…what are the ramifications if they don’t meet their expectations? Client, this is what I expect from you and what your to-do’s are. What is your punishment if you don’t do it right?

Here is a good example. Say you do tax returns. Remember all those procrastinating people who bring you stuff on April 14 and expect you to get it done by tomorrow? No!

What a lot of people will do now is if you get your documents to us by Feb. 15, this is the cost. If you get your stuff to us by March 15 here is the cost, by March 30 here is the cost and so the later you are the more you pay.

So for your client as an example, if you get it to us say by the 10th working day of the month, here are your fees. If you’re three days late you pay an additional $50; if you’re 10 days late you pay an additional $100 – whatever it is, make them pay for being late. Punish them for not meeting their expectations. Either

  • they will pay it and you don’t mind them being late because it’s their fault and you’re making more money or
  • they don’t want to pay an extra $50 so they’d better get it to you because you’re serious.

We have to train them how to behave and we need to punish them if they don’t behave. If you’re letting clients give stuff to you late month after month it’s because there are no consequences. It’s just like your kid who comes home late all the time…do they get punished? Do you take away their phone? Do you make it hurt? It’s the same with our clients, we have to make it hurt if they don’t meet their expectations and so put some penalties out there for them not providing the stuff to you on time.

Define availability, quick questions and emergencies

Another thing is we need to let the client know our availability.

  • How can they contact you?
  • What type of support do you give?
  • What is included in your package?
  • And especially when they can and can’t contact you.

Even though you may work from home you need to set some boundaries. I’ve literally had people calling me at 10 at night or on a Thursday night when I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal…no, no I’m not answering the phone.

What is it for you? Is it Sundays are off limits and that’s your family day? Maybe you’ll take calls on Saturday until noon. What works for you? What is your availability? You set the rules and you’re the boss, so you need to let the client know when they can and can’t contact you.

What are your billing policies for quick questions? I encourage my clients to email me a quick question. If it’s truly a quick question I’m not going to charge them, I’ll tell them it’s included in their fees.

If it requires a session where we have to log in then it depends. If we already have a session coming up I’ll include it in that. If it’s a special session where they did something wrong and we need to fix it and it will take 15 or 30 minutes you may want to bill them for that. You need to let them know what the support looks like. You may have packages for support as well.

You also need to let the client know what is an emergency. Way back when, I’d give my cell number out sparingly because it cost too much money if you went over your minutes. That was in the old days. But I realized I had to tell them what was an emergency and I’d be like, “Here is my cell number and you can call me if it’s an emergency.”

Well, I didn’t specify what was an emergency. “I can’t find the detail balance sheet or detailed P&L.” That wasn’t an emergency to me. “I can’t do payroll and my employees aren’t going to get paid on Friday.” That might be an emergency. You need to define what is an emergency for them and so that’s something to keep in mind.

How do you implement this with current clients? I would send out an email or letter and say, “We’re instituting some new policies or procedures and I’d love the opportunity to discuss it with you.” Maybe you want to do a webinar or GoToMeeting or Google Hangout with all your clients at once, or 10 or three clients at a time, to say “This is what we’re doing and why. It will help us be more efficient, it will help us serve you better and you’re going to get better service from us as a result.”

You have to remember the “what’s in it for me?” What is the benefit going to be for your client when you institute these changes? You want to bring it back around to how they are going to get better service.