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How to ask two questions?

If I send company accounts, tax return and tax computations in an email asking for the clients OK and a personal tax return and tax computations in another email asking for the OK, If I am in luck I usually get one of the emails answered. Clients seem incapable of answering more than one email.

If I ask a client if the attached company information is correct AND ask them for the SIC code(s) in the same email I usually get an answer to one of the questions but not both.

Am I overestimating client's intelligence? Should I include more than simple questions? I was thinking I could put a form in with a yes/no option and a box for the code. Should I colour the questions to make them more noticeable?

Should I give up on trying to get evidence of a clients response and phone them and ask them the questions? I could always record the conversations!

It's not even 9 am yet!


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23rd Aug 2012 09:10

I know what you mean!

Over the years the ability of my younger clients - even those with degrees - to check emails religiously and then do as requested has diminished. The older ones (if they don't have reading problems - and that was a big issue for a lot of 60+year olds) I have no problems with. I think it is either to do with lowered education standards or a general inability for some to act responsibly. However - that's a debate for another day!

I think your approach of sending separate emails is the right first step. I often do this. I also edit down my first attempt into very short paragraphs with very short sentences. Yes, it's pathetic.

The next step is to make sure the client only gets one email a day if they are really going to be difficult to deal with. That's still not going to help you if during that period, they're on the beach (usually in some exotic location) and are scrolling through all their emails, carelessly deleting as they go.

If I had the bad luck to have a serial deleter client I would put it all in the post, explaining that I didn't have time to keep checking with them. I might consider asking them to go elsewhere if they drove me crazy at this point.

If they are going to waste tons of your time, I think their fees should go up to reflect this.


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23rd Aug 2012 09:23

Check list for them to complete

I've just had a thought. What about sending an attachment with those emails requiring them to fill in answers next to all questions you list on the attachment, and then asking them to send the completed attachment back to you. Your questions would be short and to the point, on the basis that your email explained it all in detail.

It obviously wouldn't work for the real problem clients.

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23rd Aug 2012 09:29

Use numbers

1. Keep the number of e-mails to a minimum. Clients get confused if you send them another email before they have had a chance to answer the earlier one. Some even think that it means the earlier one doesn't require an answer at all.

2. Number each question. Then they know that you really do require an answer (ie. it's not rhetorical), their eyes are more easily led to the question and if either of you need to follow up on a point you have an easy reference to quote.


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By neileg
23rd Aug 2012 09:32

Upgrade your clients

This is a feature of Client 2.19 you need to upgrade to Client 2.50, or if you have Windows 7 go to Ultimate Client 1.0.

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23rd Aug 2012 09:32

Not just age

I am not sure that it is an age thing - I work in industry and have similar problems with more mature colleagues.

I think that it has got more to do with how and where they receive your message - eg. a few years ago the recipient would have sat down and read a letter, we then moved on to e-mails and today people receive messages on mobile devices at any time whilst they are on the go (and possibly also concentrating on something else).

I also believe that there is a Twitter effect in that people receive a message and immediately reply, although in reality they may be walking down the street, pick up a message on their i-phone and only read half of the message before replying.



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23rd Aug 2012 09:49

textual analysis

Some people - any age, background - just don't have the same ability to sift detail like accountants do. Their strengths often lie elsewhere, hopefully! Sometimes you just have to phrase the question along the lines of: "I have assumed X but please let me know if this is incorrect." Then a non-answer means you can proceed with some comfort.

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23rd Aug 2012 09:52

Curse of the i-phone

These days, email is little better than text messaging because so many people are sending and receiving emails on their i-phones, so messages are going to be a lot briefer.

Not a good trend at all.  When people emailed from PCs or laptops, an email was a real alternative to a letter or phone call.  For me, it drastically reduced the number of letters I sent and received and really improved efficiency.

Unfortunately, because of the i-phone curse, all that good has been taken away.  Most emails these days are one liners, many are barely coherent, and often the response to a fairly lengthy or technical email is "OK" - What the hell does that mean?  Do they agree?  Are they going to evaluate their options later?  What?  

Many times I've sent an email with an attachment and despite the client emailing back to agree, it turns out weeks or months later that they never bothered reading the attachment after all because they were on their i-phone and intended to look at it later on a proper PC but then forgot!

It's really dumbing down communications and it's not good.  The best we can do is be aware of it and change our way of working again.  I've certainly reverted back to sending technical correspondence by snail mail which I think now commands a greater importance value to the client because it's so rare that people get "proper" mail rather than junk mail that take it more seriously.  I really foresee an end to using email for anything other than quick one-liners - a bit like texting which is really what it's coming down to sadly.

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23rd Aug 2012 10:07

Make it easy to read

As well as numbering, I use bold type.

I also increase the font size for important bits

And am not averse to highlighting text to.

But I don't know how to do that on aweb!


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23rd Aug 2012 10:35

Same problem here. Had a meeting with a builder client yesterday and it was obvious that he had not fully taken in the content of a couple of important emails. He is usually too busy to get really organised so mostly in firefighter mode which increases his busyness. Vicious circle and with ipads & iphones etc it is all done on the fly anyway.

He admits he jumps from one thing to another all too easily and is quickly distracted. Think some of it is a function of the education system and all the means to communicate/miscommunicate available nowadays. Agree it is frustrating to get an "ok" answer when what you are looking for is input and decision making.

As Ken Howard says it is probably better not to use email for important stuff.


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23rd Aug 2012 11:33

keep it simple

agree with the above ... 


1.  numbered bullet points


2.  if stating information, then wanting a response, at the end, put any request in UNDERLINED BOLD "JOHN - PLEASE CONFIRM THIS IS THE CASE, OR PROVIDE X, Y OR Z" 


3. we send queries plus draft accounts out as attachments to an email - in the header put "Jo Bloggs draft accounts - PLUS queries to be answered".  in the body of the email, do the same. 


4.  set a deadline for return of responses


5.  don;t send too many queries out!  we sometimes send out the queries that are to be covered off during a booked phone call

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23rd Aug 2012 11:21


I have reverted back to writing letters and using snail mail.

It seems they are more responsive to old fashioned paper!

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23rd Aug 2012 13:02

Some very good ideas

The problem is that I feel only certain ideas will work with certain clients and who's to know which is which. I can't keep a database of nuances for email correspondence by client.

On the whole I think the people about my age seem to be best! But there are exceptions. One client my age used to have a high powered job paying several hundred thousand pounds a year. She opted for redundancy and still earns a couple of hundred thousand pounds from pensions and her own small business but she had ONE sales invoice in a quarter, refused to enter any expenses yet still got her VAT return figures wrong!

She received payment twice for one approximately £15k sales invoice and didn't seem to notice. I've just told her about this so there may be a good explanation - sales invoice missing? - but it's a bit of a coincidence.

I don't like to include company accounts and tax returns with personal tax returns so sometimes I do send more than one email in a day. Other times it takes a few emails to sort things out. I would phone if possible.

I know that some clients don't save copies of emails they send and even delete copies of the one's they receive. I don't delete any emails to or from clients.

I try to think of the best way to communicate with clients but with some clients it's an uphill battle. Some just say they never received my emails but I'm doubtful. I had one client who said I'd not replied to his email so I asked him to forward a copy. He got back to me saying that he'd found it in his drafts and hadn't sent it!

Another client responds to queries by saying she's already sent the information. I ask her to forward the email but she never does. She sends another email which leads me to believe that's her standard response. That's like when I was in industry and when I chased people for authorised invoices they'd say that they'd already sent them back to me but I would find them still in their office. They had no shame.


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By Flash Gordon
23rd Aug 2012 17:56

Highlight missing info in red

And they still ignore it when replying...

Some clients are just painful. You tell them exactly where to sign the accounts and they still miss a signature.

Head, desk, banging....

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28th Aug 2012 10:42

Q&A sheets

I send all my clients a Q&A for them to fill in .... or "idiot sheets" as one of my clients fondly calls them. And I pen in answers where I have the info but just require confirmation (i.e. I'm 99% sure of the answer), or where I am providing the answer for them (i.e. director's salary) ... this means the client has only limited thinking to do, but, since they need to sign and date the Q&A, it makes them think sufficiently for them to generally get the right answers to me. And, if they send incorrect info back to me, they've at least signed to say it was "correct". And, if they send incomplete info, I return them a new shortened Q&A to complete ... this tends to work with even the most illiterate and incommunicative of clients.

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28th Aug 2012 10:48

Good idea

I like that.

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28th Aug 2012 11:24

Perhaps ask each client as part of the engagement process whether, when queries arise (as they inevitably will), they prefer one email per item, or a single large email with a numbered list of queries.  Maybe ask if email is even the right medium; not everyone checks their emails obsessively !  It shows responsiveness to their preferences, and might help give them a clue that all the queries really should be responded to.

I always make a point saying how many attachments a recipient should expect to find with an email and a brief idea of what is in each.  It's partly a check in case I do something daft like forgetting to attach one of them, and partly lets them know how many to expect and whether they are anything more than background reading.

Be aware that (at least with Outlook 2007), Microsoft use that "ribbon" idea with attachments, showing about 3 rows.  I had a thoroughly embarassing situation a couple of weeks ago where I was sent an email with a whole bunch of attachments but not list in the body of the email.  Being in a rush, I didn't spot the microscopic scroll bar in the rather small attachment window.  There was only one more attachment when I did finally scroll down; it was the invoice I was supposed to pay by return ! 


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28th Aug 2012 11:30

Good idea but ....

I had been given an email address by a client but I rarely got a response to my emails. I explained this to my client and he said that if I wanted an urgent response I should send it to a different email address and he gave me that email address. I sent him an email to that address weeks ago and I'm still waiting for a reply. He lives in Australia and if I phoned him I'd still need to get him to look at the attachment with the email!

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31st Aug 2012 18:30

SMS text, anyone?

Thanks everyone for your demographic theories and practical advice on this intractable aspect of extracting data and authorisations from clients.

When I tweeted this thread, we got a reply back from regional Australian firm Pooles Accountants saying "Text".

Apparently they've been using the technique for a couple of years, "And it's very effective".

Has anyone else on AccountingWEB tried this route?


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31st Aug 2012 19:45


I only send an sms to somebody who doesn't have a computer and it's an unsocial hour. I don't see why it's any different than email, though, except for the fact that people usually read them more regularly.

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