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Managing Customer Relationships

Managing Customer Relationships

I have just read 7 mistakes accountants make and how to avoid them (I hope I'm allowed to mention it in this way). The most important message to me was to nurture the relationship with my clients, as I have lost 2 clients over the years due (I'm fairly sure) to a paying a lack of attention to them. I've simply been too busy churning out work to focus on this quite crucial area of practice management.

The problem is, the focus for my practice is on smaller businesses (sole traders and limited companies) in general subcontractors, consultants, etc. My ideal client would be a small limited company with a turnover of under £150k per annum, with less than 5 employees. My reasons for this are that I wish to create a small firm that fits in around my young family and affords me a life-work balance in the long term. I suspect larger firms prefer an accountant with a swanky office, receptionist etc and that is simply not where I aspire to be.

So my question is, how can I successfully maintain an excellant relationship with my clients without being too formal or pushy? For a lot of small businesses I get the impression, they are not to bothered about me pestering them with tax newsletter containing information they neither have the time nor inclination to read. I feel like phone calls to "touch base" would be met with irritation or indifference. So in the past my approach to customer relationship management has been very passive and simply a case of waiting for them to get in touch with me. Is there anyone else in a similar position, or with similar aspirations, who feels that a more passive approach is more relevant to smaller sole practitioner practices, or would there be a benefit to having a more structured and proactive (for want of a better word) approach?

I'd be grateful for any advice or guidance.

Many Thanks



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22nd Sep 2011 07:03

Great question

Hi Sir Digby, this is such a good question. I have thought about this fair bit. My view is that it is impossible to keep in touch through face to face meetings with all clients.So what I did was made a list of key clients. These key clients were:

High fee clientsLow fee with ambitious and clout to go furtherClients who are more than likely to bring in further work.

I narrowed this down to 5 clients. Please bear in mind from one of these 25% of my fee is earned.

I have agreed to have quarterly lunch meetings with them. This so far has worked well. Though my waist line is suffering!

With other clients I intend to call with some reason and have a chat. Though it would be impossible to do this with all clients at once. So I will get some form of rota going, For example call 3 clients a month. Recurring calls every 6 months.

This blog post - its is relevant.




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22nd Sep 2011 08:02

Nurturing clients

Hi Sir Digby

Clients always value being nurtured I believe, and your experience has been that failing to do this means losing clients.

If you wish to expand your practice by taking on extra clients, I would focus your mind on this being the main reason to nurture existing clients and put in a programme of referral marketing - there are some good guides arround on this, and one thing that is useful is putting yourself in a position of bringing good information/opportunities to your clients that they appreciate - and this could be outside your main sector of tax and accounting.

Contacting clients about something that is of interest to them is different from your view of being a pest by contacting them, whether by phone or email newsletter ( or both - my preference).

If you called every client once a quarter to say 1) Hello 2) Thank You 3) BTW then I believe they will find themselves feeling more inspired to stay with you, and refer clients to you.

The BTW is the "By The Way" and could be did you know that XXX were doing YYY which may be useful for your business as quite a few of my other clients have raved about it.


-- Accounting the PaperLess way™

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22nd Sep 2011 09:19

I'm not so sure

Our practices are all different, we have different personaliities, different client bases, different set ups, different sizes of practices, and we all have different ideas about what we want our practices to be and all our clients have different likes and dislikes. Do you really believe that everything every 'expert' says will, and does, apply to you?

From a very personal viewpoint, I get really annoyed if suppliers constantly email me, or telephone with regularity. I get even more annoyed if they 'drop in' to my office without an appointment, and I have informed one particlar insolvency practitioners that this tactic has cost them any potential business they may have got from me. If I want them to contact me regularly then I will ask them to, and likewise, if they keep ringing me uninvited I will tell them I don't like it, and if they still continue then they lose my business.

You need to be able to 'read' your clients. If they are very ambitious they will maybe appreciate regular contact much more than the plumber who just wants to plod on until retirement. Unless you 'read' them correctly, or ask them outright, you may end up alienating your clients. Naturally, if you offer to call them regularly you must keep that promise, or lose credibility, so don't start something unless you are sure you can maintain it.

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22nd Sep 2011 09:53

Dont pester people
Get to "know" each client, their kids names, the dogs name, what football club they support etc etc.  Keep a quick access crib list on yor computer so that 2 clicks when you answer the 'phone and you have their details in front of you. The fact that you "remember" that last time you spoke to them their dog was about to have pups makes them feel important.Don't call them unless there is actually a good reason to - nothing is more annoying than unsolicited calls, and they are always at an inconvenient moment.Encourage clients to call you if they need any advice or want to discuss anything (it needn't be work). Let them know that your always available- say 9-12 every morning. When they do call, be prepared to chat, spend time with them. I probably average 5 or 6 such calls from clients a week, each one probably lasting half an hour.

The idea is not to make a client your absolute priority, but to make every client think that they are.


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22nd Sep 2011 10:08

I would echo the thoughts of Monty Python above in that each client is different and you can sometimes even guage it on the industry they work in.  For instance I have a number of clients in the building sector who prefer emails or newsletters as they read them in their own time (usually 5am for some bizarre reason)


However, you cant go too far wrong asking the client how often they would like to keep in contact with you.  Ive had clients say monthly while others just say when something is relevant otherwise I will see you when the accounts are due.

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22nd Sep 2011 17:57

Add me to the pot

Regardless of the fact it is "business" you are still developing relationships and these can't really be managed by systems & rules, ie you have to use intuition and commonsense.

The easy bit is that if you sense that a bunch of the clients are really only interested in hearing from you once a year then you needn't worry about losing them through lack of attention, so, unless something comes up that you know will be of interest, leave them alone.

One way I've found to create more than one chat a year for business clients is to ask them to send me their books etc at month 6 or 9 so that I can cast an eye over them for potential accounting or tax problems or opportunities.  I've also done that with a few clients with their VAT or Dividend calculations (available profit) where ther's a history of them not getting it right.

I'm also now not automatically turning away bookkeeping work as I've found it a great way to get to know and keep in touch without any marketing effort needed.

I have to disagree with others over growing the practice in terms of numbers of clients, why would you want to do this is you are rushed to handle what you have and are denying existing clients your full attention?  There is a case for reducing client numbers, to enable you to sit back more and consider making more out of what you have and paying the right ones more attention (plus getting more time at home).  It's a bit scary and there will be a fee dip at the start but it doesn't have to happen overnight.  It's what saved me from packing it all in.

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22nd Sep 2011 22:57

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to respond.

Yet again, I seem to be trying to find a one-solution-fits-all approach, which will get me no-where fast. I love the idea of having a small client base, with whom I have a close relationship with and feel I can pick up the phone and to catch up. I like to think that I would be able to guage which of my clients would be irritated to be contacted and which would be happy to chat (usually the ones that are working at home alone and can go days without seeing another human being)!

My time issues will be easing shortly, as eldest daughter has just started school full time and my youngest will be at nursery more, so I feel I will be able to invest more time nurturing relationships. It's cheaper than taking out an advert in the paper and more likely to yield new clients!

@ FirstTab - thank you, I also find your posts very interesting and always worth a read. I think we are probably at the same stage in terms of building our businesses and funnily enough I too have recently lost my largest client (their parent company decided to consolidate their finance function across all their holdings and so no longer needed my management accounting service). Incidentily I do collect books for most of my clients - mainly because I work from home and it is normally strewn with toys - and I do enjoy the face to face time.

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23rd Sep 2011 00:36

Be available

Past midnight and I've just got off the 'phone to a client. He's in the States at present and spends half the year there.

You have to be prepared to talk to clients WHEN they want to, and about WHAT they want to.

This particular client wanted to pick my brains about some bumper boats (dogems on water) he's thiinking of importing  which was quite fortuitous because I know exactly where he can sell a couple of dozen, so tomorrow I'm off to broker a deal with another client :)


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23rd Sep 2011 07:55

@Monty - poor you :(

I sympathise. It isn't very nice when your clients think you are on tap whenever they want.

I like to have a life outside the office, and would willingly give up any client who wanted to talk to me when the office is closed. What next? Calls at 3am? That is taking client care a bit too far for me.

Maybe I am too selfish (but would prefer to think I am a realist), but I like to think I run my practice, rather than allowing my practice to run my life. We make our own choices and your choices would be hell for me.

I doubt that Sir Digby would appreciate the phone ringing after midnight, too. Maybe this is one of the downsides of working from home, as clients know you are there virtually 24/7.


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23rd Sep 2011 08:17

ShirleyM PM | Fri, 23/09/2011 - 07:55 | Permalink

"I sympathise. It isn't very nice when your clients think you are on tap whenever they want.

I like to have a life outside the office, and would willingly give up any client who wanted to talk to me when the office is closed. What next? Calls at 3am? That is taking client care a bit too far for me."



Actually it's not a problem for me as I'm often talking to people I work with in the States in our campaign against the death penalty.  As you can imagine with two executions carried out on Wednesday it's been a particularly busy time. So I'm quite used to being on the 'phone at that time of night.

Plus I am one of natures "owls". My best work is done laer in the day, whereas when I first wake anything beyond 2+2 is totally beyond me.  You really wouldnt want me to tackle anything complicated for the first couple of hours after I wake.

Certainly I wouldnt take a call from a "normal" client at midnight, but you do have to consider the time difference when clients are 8 hours time difference from you.

Plus of course, by brokering this deal for a client, I will have a "nice little earner" for not a lot of time or effort.




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23rd Sep 2011 09:03

As I said earlier ...

We make our own choices :)

My family (and myself) wouldn't be very happy with that sort of set up ... but you think the fees are worth the hassle so go for it.

"You have to be prepared to talk to clients WHEN they want to, and about WHAT they want to." """

"Certainly I wouldnt take a call from a "normal" client at midnight, but you do have to consider the time difference when clients are 8 hours time difference from you. """

The two statements do seem rather contradictory, but ..... whatever makes you happy :)

I don't think many accountants (other than start ups maybe) would really want to follow the above recommendation though.

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23rd Sep 2011 09:07

Henry - please help!!!!!

Something went wrong with my last posting .... it is veeeeeeeerrrryyyy long, and editing it doesn't put it right.


[Mod note - fixed. Long post was long!]

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23rd Sep 2011 09:38


What you seem to forget Shirley is that when dealing with someone in a different time zone it inevitably means one of you is going to be taking the call out of office hours.

As I said, I'm very used to working to US time and with an 8 hour time difference between her and the West coast its not unusual for me to be talking to someone there late into the evening.

Of course this is usually connected to our work to abolish the death penalty and that isnt "work", it's far more important than that.


I like the long gap in your last post - as I scrolled down it I thought you'd stopped talking to me :)


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23rd Sep 2011 09:55

Where is the problem?

I am simply trying to help Sir Digby by pointing out that what suits one accountant may not suit another, and also hopefully getting the point across that she should not feel obliged to allow her clients to contact her 24/7.

I keep on saying that we each choose our own work/life balance. I am not sure how much clearer I can be about this! I am not asking you to justify your choice.

You're last comment shows you are a real jester :)

Leastways, I hope you jest ;)

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to ShirleyM
23rd Sep 2011 10:25

Lifestyle & choices

ShirleyM wrote:

I am simply trying to help Sir Digby by pointing out that what suits one accountant may not suit another, and also hopefully getting the point across that she should not feel obliged to allow her clients to contact her 24/7.

I keep on saying that we each choose our own work/life balance. I am not sure how much clearer I can be about this! I am not asking you to justify your choice.

You're last comment shows you are a real jester :)

Leastways, I hope you jest ;)



I agree we each have our own way of working.

Partly this is dictated by outside influences such as young children, the need to pay the mortgage, etc, and partly by clients themselves and their requirements (and whether you are prepared to cater to those requirements).

Partly it can be dictated by personal choice. I'm not one for being tied down by the clock and like to keep my time as flexible as possible. Being semi retired and no longer having to worry about earning as much as I can does give more freedom, and I enjoy the fact that if its raining I can work, and if the sun shines I can just clear off out for some "me time".

I have never really bothered about the artificial 9-5 split and always tended to work when needed and relax when not needed.  Indeed, even now if I have something complicated to write or a difficult set of accounts to prepare, I will not even start it until mid afternoon, as I am one of those people who get better as the day goes on.

Yes I was jesting about your long gap in the post (which seems to have now been cured).  At first I thought - "Shirley has run out of things to say .......... then I thought, don't be so silly thats not possible :)


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By Flash Gordon
23rd Sep 2011 10:15

I have a solution...

What you seem to forget Shirley is that when dealing with someone in a different time zone it inevitably means one of you is going to be taking the call out of office hours.


it's called email!

But Shirley has a good point - if you've available 24-7 at the start people expect it for the rest of eternity. Act like a regular business (by that I mean standard office hours 9-5ish) and people will respect it (usually). You have to start as you mean to go on else if you decide to expand to an office are you going to have 24-7 office cover?

I had a client who rang me on the mobile at 9pm on Sunday 31st January one year wanting me to do his tax return that evening for free...... Shoot me now as I actually did - partly because it was in expectation of a sizeable fee (which I got) and partly because I was killing time before the American footie started (I only usually have a 5 hour time gap)  but never again. Needless to say that client is no longer my issue....

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23rd Sep 2011 10:33

Thanks for confirming my opinion

I said all that, in much fewer words, even if I did have to keep repeating myself.

Hmmm ... you jest again. Anyone would think I was the 'wordy' one ;)

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23rd Sep 2011 11:18

Any time

I'm happy to talk to people any time I am free. I don't take my mobile when I go out - unless I think I'll need it so I have me time then. If I was busy doing something and I didn't want to be disturbed I wouldn't answer the phone.

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to Old Greying Accountant
23rd Sep 2011 12:13

No-one has my personal mobile phone number

I tend to use email for virtually all communication these days.  Far less intrusive than a phone call or personal visit.  I know how I hate to be disturbed when I'm busy so I expect my clients to feel the same way.  I have no particular routine, but will often email a client I've not heard from for a few months, just to check they're OK and don't need anything from me, and maybe remind them if it's getting close to a deadline.  When I receive emails, I'll always acknowledge them within a day or so, answer them if I can, or if not tell them it'll be a few days before I respond fully.  Never had a problem.  Email works especially well with overseas clients to avoid the time difference problems.  For most things you don't need to talk or meet the other person.  By sorting things by email, it means that you can have more enjoyable conversations and meetings where you can nurture your relationship by not talking exclusively about work.

I used to have the idea that you need to be available for most of the time, but guess what?  Most of the time, clients don't expect an instant answer and are happy to wait for a call back.  I used to drop everything to answer every phone call, diver the office number to my mobile or home, etc.  You have to do that kind of thing when you are newly starting out or otherwise desperate for work, but once you're established, I see absolutely nothing wrong in sticking to basic office hours and letting it go to answerphone if you're in the middle of something.  The vast majority of clients don't mind - they can't mind because I only lose 1 or 2 clients a year to other firms and am always getting referrals.  

My personal mobile number is confidential to me and my family/friends only.   I have an old mobile that I can resurrect for business use if the need arises, i.e. if I'm travelling a long way to see a client and they may need to phone to change things whilst I'm on the move.  Also use it when there is a particular client emergency and I know a client may need to contact me urgently - again they get the phone number of the practice mobile.  But, when nothing like that is happening, it's switched off with a voicemail message asking any caller to call my office number instead.  I can be on call 24:7 but only when I know in advance and only when I determine it's important enough.  This isn't an option for clients who can't be bothered to pre-warn me or are arrogant enough to expect me to talk through non urgent routine things out of hours.  

As for home number, forget it, clients never get that anymore.

I learned all this after a brief spell working from home - the whole family would be woken up at 3 in the morning by a fax coming through, or our family meals would be interrupted by the phone (breakfast or evening meal, not lunch!).  The final straw was a client phoning on Christmas day because he was bored as his religion didn't recognise Christmas!  I had to start unplugging the phone from the socket to be left alone.  I got a second line which helped a bit, but clients had already got the home number by then, so if the works line was engaged or not answered, they'd try the home phone instead.  I had to get the home number changed in the end!  

Sadly, clients are like everyone else, some are life's takers who'll always take the mickey and take advantage.  We just have to be grateful it's the minority and that the vast majority of clients would never even dream of calling outside works hours.  I also have to be grateful that I'm not desperate for clients either - it means that I don't have to unrealistically bend over backwards for the takers who expect the world on a plate.

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23rd Sep 2011 12:20

Points taken but

we have clients who can only talk in the eveneing so I offer to call them.  This means that I control whom I speak to and when

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23rd Sep 2011 17:08


I wanted to note that there has been heavy moderation of this thread in order to keep it on topic and protect all users of AccountingWEB.

All relevant members have been contacted and the situation, which also spread to other threads, is being managed.

Please be considerate to the original poster of this and other threads and respect the need to keep conversations relevant and civil. All attacks and accusations are taken very seriously but, to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately, it is imperative that you go through the proper channels by using the report function or contacting the moderation team directly (which can be done by PMing me).

Any public claims relating to harrassment or that question the identity of users are inflammatory and should be disregarded.

I'm leaving this thread open and appealing to your better nature to only add comments that relate to Sir Digby's original question and the relevant discussion that it has generated. Let's please end the working week on a positive note :-)

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25th Sep 2011 13:23

Being proactive

Clients often move to new accountants because they feel the old accountant doesn't  care about them and doesn't offer pro-active advice. By definition therefore you need to initiate contact with them - not just to interupt their day but to ask if they'd like to know more about something that you genuinely think will be of benefit to them.  

You can do this through:

Generic newsletters (hard copy or email)Tailored newsletters that are more specific to the client's situation, trade, niche etcGeneric emailsPersonalised (generic) emailsPersonal messages - by email, text, phone or voicemailInviting them to events you runInviting them to third party eventsSending them clippings from the pressSending them links to relevant websitesAnd so on.

It's worth finding out which approach each client prefers by asking them every now and then.


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25th Sep 2011 13:56






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