From Accountingweb: We all know accountants rely heavily on personal interaction to build client rapport, trust and loyalty. We also know how quickly those relationships can languish and grow stale if not nurtured with meaningful communication. What can we do in our daily practice to bridge the divide between human contact and virtualization?
Remote work is nothing new for my firm, we have been working this way since our inception over a decade ago. Here are seven remote work best practices that have helped us develop lasting trust bonds with our clients without ever meeting them in person.
1. Be Approachable
Accountants have long relied upon relationship building to attract new customers to their practice and the loss of human contact has put them at a loss for how to build their base. A great percentage of professional service clients come in through referral and those are the best kind because they arrive at your doorstep with assumed trust in place.
We want to keep the referrals coming even though the meet and greets, parties, award ceremonies and appreciation events have dried up. There are some easy ways to make yourself virtually approachable, because when the referrals come, people will need to be able to get to know you on their terms and without in person interaction.
2. Social Transparency
Develop your profile on LinkedIn. Make it public and be sure to include a recent picture. People are moving away from the traditional headshots toward candid shots because they tend to capture personality.
Of course, your profile should include important things like education, awards, current and past work, but don’t forget to include interesting information as well. People will connect with you more quickly if they know your passions. Tell them what you like, how you support those passions and even mention in-progress learning and projects.
For instance, I’m interested in blockchain. I am by no means an expert nor do I have credentials to post on my profiles. But I mention my pursuit of learning more about that interest and that connects me to others who are on the same journey. It also gives people something to talk about when they reach out to me.
Finally, LinkedIn is no longer a glorified resume, it is a way for people to get to know what you are all about on a professional level. Don’t leave things out just because they aren’t your “day job,” in this gig economy people are filling their profiles with pursuits, not just employment. Remember the purpose, to make you relatable to someone who is looking at you as a professional they might want to work with.
3. Easy Access
I know you are busy, but it is no longer acceptable to be inaccessible. Consider providing a way for people to calendar a meeting through a link on your social profiles and email signature block. By doing so, you eliminate any perception that you are creating barriers to relationship and you can reduce the number of calls and emails you have to field, just to get a meeting on the calendar.
My team loves Calendly for appointment setting. It allows them to block out time when they will take meetings, specify the type of meetings they will accept, and gather important information prior to meeting. You may be thinking that potential vendors are going to eat up your meeting time with unwanted pitches or clients will abuse your availability, but there are some practical things you can do to avoid these pitfalls.
Create meeting types that specify the attendee’s relationship to you. For example: ‘Client Only – Tax Planning’ – you can even specify your hourly rate if meetings aren’t included in a fixed contract. Or try ‘Client Prospect – Get to Know Me’ – make these only ½ hour long and require them to give you their name, email, how they found you and what they are looking for in the way of services when they book the meeting.
If a vendor fakes their way into one of these valuable meeting slots, they know it’s a sure path to being blacklisted, so you won’t be inundated by unwanted scheduling.
4. Be Proactive
Once you land the relationship, how do you keep it going? Just as in a romantic relationship where it’s helpful to know your partner’s love language. In a professional relationship it is important to know your client’s goals, hopes, and fears.
We might show great interest in our client’s needs in early meetings and lose that thread as time passes. In a virtual world, you will have no lunch date or annual meeting to get the narrative back on track. The key to keeping it fresh is to pay close attention and reach out more often – I recommend quarterly.
Don’t be shy. Communicate directly to check in on their needs; how things may be changing, new conditions that are emerging, and areas where you (or a referral from you) might be helpful. Take notes.
If you have a CRM, record the information there along with their communication preferences, industry, entity formation, and anything that will help you personalize your interactions with them. We use HubSpot, which is easy to adopt because it’s free until advanced features are needed and it blends nicely with practice management software, email, and calendars.
5. Make It Personal
Now that you know what makes them click, use that information to touch them with impactful information about their topics of interest. Newsletters are soon to be a thing of the past because they deliver a large amount of untargeted information that the reader has to sift through to find what pertains to them.
Current communication trends are moving toward the delivery of small amounts of information that is individually pertinent based on characteristics and preferences. Your clients expect you to know them and deliver matter that is of import to them, not waste their time and pack their inboxes with the same information you are sending to everyone else.
6. Use Multiple Channels
Ever notice how when the fax machine was first used in daily business every fax was of utmost importance? As new channels of communication are introduced each is vying for your client’s attention.
Keep the relationship fresh and active by fostering communication through multiple channels per your clients’ preferences. We use email, which we customize to each client, phone, text, and the MyBookkeeper mobile app.
We deliver different types of information via the different channels and we do not use channels that our customers have opted out of. The mobile app has been a transformative tool in our practice because it created a dedicated space on our clients’ phones where they can receive communication from us and we can provide tools for daily interaction, training, and access to important features of our service.
7. Create Feedback Opportunities
We all want to have happy clients all of the time. But when things don’t go well, the most frustrating way to find out is by “discovering” that they have already started working with someone else. When a relationship is solely virtual, it is exceedingly important to provide clients with multiple opportunities to give feedback about their experience and expectations.
These requests should make space for them to offer suggestions for improvement, ask questions about new services, or comment on something that disappointed them. If you learn that they are unhappy, you must call.
This is not the time for burying your head in the sand, it is the time for acknowledgement and solution focused discussion. Although difficult, this is a much better scenario than learning they have left without ever knowing why.
We check-in with our customers on a quarterly basis via both email and phone call, eliciting responses from those who are more comfortable writing it down and those who want to talk about it. If you receive no response, that is okay. Your responsibility is to create the space; what they do with it is up to them.
As our profession becomes more virtualized, whether by pandemic, weather, or the changing tides of societal expectations, it is increasingly important to find ways for keeping our client relationships active and rewarding through frequent, targeted and compelling communication.
Gone are the days of letting the year pass until you send out your annual engagement package or leaving it to untargeted email blasts to build effective relationships. It is our responsibility to change the way we do business so we can build valuable, lasting bonds with our clients for years to come.