Dear Nick: 'I was shocked by my client's ingratitude'
An accountant who didn’t charge for furlough work now feels bruised by an ungrateful client. AccountingWEB's resident agony uncle Nick Elston recommends managing expectations and setting boundaries.
The delimma: “I was surprised by the reaction to the work/help I provided on their behalf – some expressed their thanks, many more didn’t. Given that we didn’t charge (preferring to help clients survive) I was shocked by the ingratitude,” the accountant commented in the chatbox during a recent Any Answers Live session on wellbeing.
This accountant sacrificed a fee to not only help a client but presumably secure loyalty. However, it seems to have gone unnoticed and worse – ignored, without even a ‘thanks’.
Another attendee added this, on the point of being respectful: “One self-employed client had three-plus months off then returned to work in July. I asked her to send her books y/e Feb 20 & she asked why I hadn’t asked sooner! I just wondered why she hadn’t got them ready whilst off work!”
Nick replies: It all comes down to managing expectations. What can your clients expect from you and what can’t they expect from you? But also, what should you expect from your clients and what shouldn’t you expect?
Regular readers of my column, my YouTube subscribers or anyone who has been in the audience when I have spoken will know that I speak a lot on ‘setting boundaries’ and ‘managing expectations’.
These topics are emotionally linked triggers that really can hit a nerve with us, but especially accountants – and especially right now.
Did your phone start ringing as soon as Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak announced the latest tax break or initiative on live TV? It was your client demanding to know how they access it.
You have literally just watched the same press conference but their expectations are (incorrectly) that you should know this already, plus they are anxious as even in the best of times, finances are a huge anxiety trigger to a lot of people.
This goes unmanaged, the precedent is set.
When the furlough scheme was announced, a lot of accountants decided to offer this service for free to help clients survive – did this then set another expectation?
I know a lot of businesses in other industries that I work in started to give a lot of their products and services away for free only to find that now things are beginning to progress, they have nothing left to ‘sell’ – or the expectation is that you will continue to work for free or heavily discounted.
From my conversations with those in the accounting profession over recent weeks, it seems a real 50/50 split on those who refused to ‘do’ free and those who did. But, that’s not the problem. The problem is more emotional than that, more human.
It must be remembered that a lot of people are acting from a position of fear right now. Of course, compassion must be shown, but your actions are continuing to set expectations – either intentionally or by default.
So, maybe look at forming some new expectations by setting boundaries;
When can clients reach you? If you haven’t got a PA or a VA, try a planning app like Calendly to schedule your calls.
How long is your response time? Work out the response time for any given request or action and communicate it clearly to the client.
What do you charge for? This can be a prickly one as you have read above, giving a client a free transaction doesn’t necessarily buy loyalty or in fact gratitude & potentially sets a new expectation. Work out your pricing and get comfortable with stating it.
Two-way communication: As showcased in the second quote, getting ahead of these game and giving your client an ‘upfront agreement’ of what you need from them, when and what happens if that doesn’t happen.
Don’t forget the self-care: Check your diary to ensure you have some buffer time around meetings and calls to avoid that firefighting trap – also some time out, maybe even define your working hours.
This is a process that I have been through recently with my business, based on an old sales tool called an HPW or ‘high performing week’. It maximises the time we have available whilst minimising the chance of overrunning.
I’d love to hear of any boundaries or expectations you set with your clients, please pop them in the comments below.
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Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. His coaching programme is called Life On Your Terms.