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Free telephone advice

In the past I have offered free telephone advice to clients but a recent posting got me thinking as to how sensible this is.

I have always done it as a 'sweetener' to attract clients, and on the basis that most clients dont abuse it.

But I now feel I am missing the wider picture. Surely by offering something so significant/fundamental as free telephone advice as accountants we are seriously devaluing our work.

I recently used a solicitor for a major business deal and had a large bill for the work done (£6.5k) and they didnt offer free telephone advice and I wouldnt have dreamt of expecting them to do so. Why? I know solictors are expensive professional people. So why as accountants should we be any different?

I am seriously reconsidering using free telephone advice as a selling point. It needs to be something else which doesnt devalue our worth. Ater all if we do so much for free - free intial consultations, free telephone advice etc., give away free tax advice booklets on our websites etc why on earth should clients expect to pay for anything?


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By Anonymous
03rd Mar 2008 21:00

Free telephone advice but...
not overly long conversations.

I say to my clients that I am always available for 'ten minute' queries free of charge. That means they know they can ring up and have a quick query answered immediately and without charge, however puts them off ringing all the time or for long complex matters.

I don't actually time the calls but the vast majority only call rarely and have quick queries. In the case of longer more complex queries I tend to say I'd have to see them to discuss further and tell them that would be chargeable.

It seems like a good compromise to me, and works well so far.

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By Anonymous
03rd Mar 2008 20:52

Free unlimited telephone advice
I think this is similar to those money back guarantees that are great PR and very seldom claimed.

You can offer free unlimited telephone advice and I would imagine the vast majority of your client base will not actually use it.

The ones that do will be the one who would have phoned anyway. The question is:

- Will the incentive create enough additional business to warrant the reward?

Mulling it round in my head, I think I may use it in the next marketing campaign. After all, there are only so many times that clients can ring up and ask questions - aren't there?

I went on a marketing course for accountants a couple of years ago. It suggested going one step further and offering unlimited telephone advice to all clients, but charging them £80 each. Personally I think this was a step too far, being too much like extended warranties that get such bad press. However, you may understand the approach more when you know who ran the course - Sage.

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By Anonymous
03rd Mar 2008 19:13

What is the line?
I have to agree with the last posting - but how do you draw the line?

How can some clients expect to receive free calls and others not?

If you look at many accountants websites a very large majority offer free unlimited telephone advice.

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03rd Mar 2008 15:06

What limits??
I think that you need to be very carefull in defining "free telephone advice".
It is one thing if I client rings to enquire whether a simple expense is tax allowable but another client may expect masses of detailed advice "free of charge" that you cannot possibly deliver. This could be a legal minefield

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By Anonymous
03rd Mar 2008 11:29

The last thing...
...I want to do is make my clients feel that whenever they speak to me, the clock will be running. I feel that one of my USP's is that I am approachable.

Of course, there are a few clients who ring up with the odd query and the conversation drifts to other things, but I feel that's all part and parcel of developing the business. I've lost count of the number of clients I've taken on whose previous accountant 'was never there'. I am naturally concerned that in the future, as my client list grows, I will in turn not be there as much for my clients. But by then, I should hopefully have stacks of cash and so won't be too bothered!!!

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By spayne
03rd Mar 2008 11:19

Quick word never harms you
Agree with Mr Burge
Better to have a quick conversation and know about whats going on
All part of the service unless it forms part of a new piece of work ie shall I buy this business?

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03rd Mar 2008 10:53

We make it clear to new and existing clients that a quick word on the 'phone is always free.

They all very much appreciate it and it not only keeps the clients feeling involved but can stop the "if only you had told me about this before you did it" syndrome. It is a service that is of benefit to us both.

It never gets abused. If it is too complex a matter for a quick call, the clients come for a (chargeable) meeting.

The comparison with solicitors is not valid. Most or their work is "one-offs". Those solicitors that we act for certainly do give free telephone advice to their longstanding and ongoing regular clients - that is one of the reasons they keep them.

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02nd Mar 2008 23:37

It totally depends if competitors in your target market are offering this then you should also do the same.

I always say that you should consider offering something different. I always offer time at initial consultation, be helpful friendly but dont forget you are in business to earn money. Dont forget you cant earn money if you dont get the instruction

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