What not to say to your clients


It is not farfetched to say that many of us have been in situations where the person you spoke to, understood something completely differently to what you meant.

This can be devastating if it is a client who has a long memory, asserts Bryce Sanders, president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania and provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry.

Sanders says clients may forget appointments or the importance of sending you documents, but if you mess up just once, they never forget. “It’s easy to use the wrong words when rushed or in a heated discussion. Think first—and consider better ways of getting your point across,” he advises in an article about eight things never to say to your clients.

Amongst the phrases that can create difficulty or the loss of a client are:

  1. “I only work with people I like.” You might mean it as a compliment to your current client or prospect. It has other meanings. What you meant: I’m successful enough to pick and choose my clients. What they heard: I like you but you better stay in line. If you start to become a liability, you’re out of here. Why it’s wrong: Be honest. You may have some emotionally difficult clients you tolerate because of the revenue. Better Expression: “Because of my background [elaborate on this] I find I can bring the most value to clients who [describe situation]. Do you know any other people like yourself who are facing similar issues and need some advice?”
  2. “Let me have your business card.” You’ve met someone at a social event and talked about business. You see potential and want to follow up. What you meant: I want to keep in touch. What they heard: She thinks I’m a prospect. I’m not and I’ll have to tell her sooner or later. Why it’s wrong: You might want to keep in touch for several reasons. Your children attend the same school. You share the same hobbies. You have friends in common. They might be a good dinner guest. There’s business potential. Better expression: “I’ve enjoyed talking with you. We share several interests in common. From time to time I come across articles about that problem you were mentioning. I would like to keep in touch. How do I do that?”
  3. “I think you are wrong.” Your client has a get-rich-quick scheme or some hugely misinformed idea on how to save on taxes. What you meant: I think you are about to make a big mistake. After this blows up, don’t say, “I should have told you not to do it.” What they heard: I’m smarter than you and I’m telling you not to do it. Why it’s wrong: You are implying you are superior to the client and they are in a subordinate position. Better expression: “I don’t think you have all the facts.” (You make your points.)
  4. “Easy come, easy go. It’s only money.” Your client owes more than she thought. What you meant: Let’s keep this in perspective. What they heard: You are not taking this seriously. It’s all a game to you. You don’t actually care about my well-being. Why it’s wrong: Clients are attached to their money. Deep down they may know they need to pay taxes or some investments don’t work out, but they are reluctant to part with money. You should be sympathetic. Better expression: “Yes, your tax bill is higher than expected. You had a good year in the stock market and locked in capital gains. No one likes to pay taxes, but when you make money in the market, the government is your silent partner.”
  5. “Are you going to take my advice or not?” Your client needs to make a decision. He is dithering. What you meant: You are paying for advice. You should take it. What they heard: You are rushing me. This is a big step. Why it’s wrong: You are being confrontational. Better expression: “Let me make this easy for you.” (Repeat your advice.) or “Here’s what I think we should do…”
  6. “I’ll let voicemail get that call.” You are meeting with a client. Your phone rings and you ignore it. What you meant: You are meeting with me now and paying for the time. You have my undivided attention. What they heard: If I had a serious problem and called you for help, would you ignore my call without even knowing the problem? Why it’s wrong: It implies you are not available to your clients on short notice. Better expression: “When we meet with a client it’s important we focus on their issues. You’ve noticed the phone is ringing. When a call comes we have procedures in place. My associate usually answers, if not it rolls to a person who covers or it returns to the receptionist. If it’s a true emergency, someone will interrupt our meeting.”
  7. “It’s firm policy.” Clients unhappy about something. You aren’t going to accommodate them. What you meant: I understand your concern, but I don’t have the authority to make an adjustment. What they heard: This is a stupid rule. You can’t justify it, so you hide behind procedures. Why it’s wrong: You didn’t even try to get them an exception. They don’t feel you are representing their best interests. Better expression: “We’ve had a policy in place for [X] years to address this situation because [elaborate]. I understand your concern. I will bring your request up with our managing partner, however it’s likely he will confirm we must be consistent in the enforcement of our policies.”
  8. “That’s why you pay me the big bucks.” You’ve given prudent advice. They are satisfied. You are taking credit for a job well done. What you meant: They are happy, the issue has been addressed. You are lightening the mood. What they heard: My suspicions have been confirmed. I’m being overcharged! Why it’s wrong: They may be highly compensated but you should not draw attention to your own compensation. Better expression: “That’s why you choose to work with professionals. You want advice from an expert. I’m glad we have been able to help.”

As an accountant you understand the virtues of prudence. Thinking before speaking is prudent.

Adapted from the original article on http://www.accountingweb.com/article/8-things-you-should-never-say-your-accounting-clients/224443