What not to say to clients

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In everybody’s life comes a time when you wish you can take back something you said. In the life of an accountant things that are said “in the heat of moment”, can cost a client or break down a relationship that took years to build.

Bryce Sanders, president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania, compiled a list of seven stupid things that may slip of the tongues of the generally risk averse accountants when talking clients.

He also suggests better ways of saying things like “just sign your life away”, “you wouldn’t understand”, and “can this wait?”

He advises accountants to take as much care in conversations with clients as they would in any correspondence, including e-mail messages.

Never say the following:

1. Just sign your life away.

Clients trust you. Don’t give them a reason to think otherwise, even in jest.

Better Expression: “Do you understand everything I’ve explained so far? Then we just need to complete this paperwork and you are on your way.”

2. Nobody works for free.

This sounds like paying taxes.

Better Expression: “Nobody wants to write checks to the government if they don’t have to. They feel they are losing money they worked hard to earn. Consider your own job. You are paid a salary and sometimes a bonus. If the company had a bad year and lost money, you still deserve to get paid your salary since you did the same excellent job as last year. It’s the same in my business.”

3. You wouldn’t understand.

This is the same as saying “Don’t be stupid” or “You’re an idiot.”

Better Expression: I’ve heard about the strategy you mentioned. The SARS has, too. They are expected to be issuing a ruling although we don’t know when. I think it’s a safer strategy to work within the guidelines of what they consider acceptable. Here’s why…”

4. Are they still in business?

Don’t make a disparaging remark about a firm of accountants that are competing with you. That’s beneath you.

Better Expression: ‘They are a fine firm. Please bear in mind you and I have been working together for a long time. I understand your business and we understand each other. That’s a valuable benefit and it’s difficult to attach a dollar value.”

5. Can this wait?

If you use this then you have forgotten who works for whom.

Better Expression: “I’m heading off to meet with a client before they appear for an audit. You can understand I need to focus on their needs right now. If it’s urgent I can call you from the car once I leave the building or we can schedule a time for tomorrow morning.”

6. Who’s going to know?

Don’t place your reputation at risk.

Better Expression: “Have you seen the news lately? Have you seen the surveillance capability of government? If anyone had a so much power, don’t you think it would be the SARS? No one wants to get audited. Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

7. They haven’t caught me yet.

You are in a good mood on a sunny Friday afternoon. Your client questions a strategy you have suggested. You feel it’s appropriate for them but feel like having fun. It just slips out. Your client rationalizes: “If she goes down, I go down.”

Better Expression: “It’s a good, accepted strategy for business owners in your position. It has solid grounding in tax law. I can go into detail if you want.”

It’s likely you are smart enough not to use any of these expressions, however things slip out in the heat of the moment. Once said, you can’t take your words back.

For the full list of the stupid things you should not say to clients, go to:

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