Turn Off the Autopilot—Save Your Client Relationships, and Open the Door to Referrals

Everyone is so busy these days. Our smartphones and tablets compel us to multitask, creating lists within lists and to-dos that overlap. With good intentions and the right tools at our fingertips, we tend to be overambitious about what we can actually get done each day.

This is evident in all aspects of life—work, home, relationships. When I walk into a restaurant or store or even reach out to a friend, the person I’m speaking with seems to have only a few minutes to share with me.

Accountants who are deep in their audit or tax busy season are particularly at risk for feeling overwhelmed and potentially damaging client relationships.

The biggest risk to client relationships is to revert to an “autopilot” conversation style during your busy times. Your autopilot may cause you to provide cursory responses to questions. Or it might cause you to operate from a mental script when speaking with clients, without adjusting for the conversation at hand. You may not even realize you are on autopilot until someone on the other end tells you, or even worse, just fades away.

How can you avoid falling into autopilot mode?

Go Off-Script 

The other day, I was at a popular fast-food restaurant in a busy commuter area. The person behind the counter spoke to me like she was reading from a script, asking me questions from memory, but not actually listening to my answers. It reached the point where she repeatedly asked me questions I had just answered seconds before. When I went “off script,” she didn’t adjust to the conversation in real-time. I felt ignored and annoyed. Your clients can feel this way if it feels like you are reading from a script or filling out a form. It doesn’t take more time to engage with your clients and react in real-time to their responses, but it does take more effort. The payoff is that your clients will feel heard and will appreciate your attention to their needs.

Be Present

It is easy to find ourselves physically midconversation, but mentally thinking ahead to all the things we need to get done that day. Being distracted while talking with your client won’t help you complete your list; it will only diminish the quality of your interaction. Keeping a written to-do list will remove the burden of constantly remembering what you have to do next. For each interaction, dedicate a set amount of time to focus on that person. Even if you have to limit your time with the client, most people will appreciate the shorter time knowing they have your undivided attention.

Set Expectations and Keep Your Commitment

Clients know their accountants are busy this time of year. They also have more questions now than almost any other time of year. How can you balance your clients’ needs with your busy schedule? It will help to set expectations for returned calls and messages this time of year. Be specific about how long it may take to get a response and then follow through in the amount of time you gave them. By setting expectations and then keeping that commitment, you will actually enhance goodwill and trust with your clients.

Follow Up After Busy Season

Being busy isn’t an excuse to forget the relationship-building side of client service. Take advantage of increased communication with clients during busy season to improve client relationships. Then, when the busy season comes to an end, survey your clients. By making the extra effort to engage during busy season, and by turning off the autopilot, you will likely see more positive responses, and in turn, an opportunity for client referrals that can grow your business.


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