14 ideas for getting records on time (every time)
Last week, Simon Chaplin joined us – and an audience of hundreds – to talk about getting records from your clients. And, no, it wasn’t just ‘use AccountancyManager’. It all comes down to communication. When you do it, how you do it and the words you use.
Simon – AKA Socks Up Simon – owns an award-winning accounting practice, GreenStones. Since 2010 however, he’s shifted his focus onto ‘inspiring, challenging and supporting accountants and their teams to be the very best they want to be’.
I feel your pain, sometimes it feels like you're banging your head against a brick wall, trying to get information in.”
Simon shares his 14 ideas for getting records and information from your clients, first stating: “With a lot of these ideas, AccountancyManager will support the process. But you need to put them into the process to make sure they’re done by your team.”
1. Book appointments
“If you know you need information from a client, book an appointment in their diary. Either for you to speak to them or to confirm when they’re providing the information.”
“When the VAT return quarter ends, for example, you ask the client to bring the information in. Almost certainly the client will say, ‘Yeah, I'll do it next week’. Your response to them should be: ‘Okay on what day? What time? Okay, 10 o'clock’.’”
“If you get a specific date and a specific time, they are much, much more likely to deliver the information to you, either physically deliver it to you, or deliver it to you over the phone.”
2. Help the client feel the pain
“Clients don't care about our pain, they’re only interested in the pain they’re experiencing. It's no good ringing up a client and saying, ‘If you don't bring the information in, we're going to have to work overtime.’”
“It’s very easy to ring the client up and say, ‘Hello, Mr. Jones, we are missing invoices from ABC Limited on such and such a date. Can you let us have those invoices please?" The client will go, "Yeah, I'll get around to it."
Communicate the pain that the customer will experience if they don't deliver the information when you want it.”
“Now, what you haven't communicated is A: a deadline for the information. But most importantly B: what pain they’ll experience if they don't deliver those invoices to you.”
“Change the language and say: ‘Hello, Mr. Jones, we need the following four invoices and if you don't let me have them by the 22nd of the month for argument's sake, there is VAT of £2,492 pounds that we won’t be able to claim on your behalf.”
3. Make a note and move on
“You ring the customer and say, ‘Hello, Mr. Jones, can we have that invoice?’ Mr. Jones says, ‘Yeah, I've got that invoice. I will send it soon.’”
“Then all you do is you make a note and move on. You carry on. You put the document in, you claim the VAT, but you confirm that the client can provide you with the information. I know that's one of the systems that most accountants use. Make a note and move on.”
4. Estimate, confirm, then correct
“When we talk about things like VAT, obviously as accountants, we want to make sure that the returns are accurate.”
“However, you can adjust VAT returns within certain limits. There’s nothing to stop you estimating what the VAT would be on a certain invoice, or on a certain collection of invoices.”
“Confirm that you've asked the client for the evidence ready for next time. and then file the return and make a note on the system to correct it next time.”
5. Just don’t do it
“As an accountant, you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate this behaviour from your clients, they will continue to do it. So what if you just don't do the return? You allow them to suffer the pain of the penalties.”
“Say, on the first of the month, you send out an email asking for records. Then it gets to the 21st and you ring the client.”
“What the client remembers is, "Well, we had the email, but they didn't really want it until the 22nd of the month, so I've got an extra three weeks before and they're going to ring me up and remind me anyway."
“If you actually want that information on the 7th of the month, when you're writing to them on the 1st of the month, then make sure you tell them that.”
6. Increase the fees
“If they’re causing you lots of aggravation, then get paid for the aggravation. Say: ‘Okay, because we have to keep chasing you, it makes us less efficient. We're going to charge you extra.’”
“Merely having that conversation with the client, they’ll almost certainly go: ‘Oh, I didn't realise. Don't charge me, I promise I’ll deliver it when you need it." Then you can say, "Okay, but, as soon as you fail to deliver the information, then it'll just go on the invoice automatically. Is that okay?"
Almost always the customer will go, "Yeah," because they believe they're going to deliver the information when they say they are. Then monitor it and if they continue to misbehave, add that charge to the invoice when it comes through.
7. Custom emails
“This isn’t for everybody, but you can set up a custom email address for the client. The client gives that email address to their suppliers and invoices come to you. Even better, you can then set up rules so these invoices automatically get uploaded to Dext or whatever you use.”
“So, at Greenstones, we’d have [email protected] – where ABCLimited is the client. Instead of, say, Screwfix giving the client a paper receipt or sending the invoice to the client by email, they can give Screwfix your custom email address, so the invoice just comes directly to you.”
“It helps the client feel more important, because they've got their own email address on your server. They also don’t have to remember who they're sending it to – they send it to themselves basically.”
8. Get them to automate it
“We had a challenge getting clients to use the invoice processing system. One chap in particular would often come into the office to deliver piles of greasy, smoky-smelling receipts.”
There's no rocket science in this at all. Just get them to upload it to Dext or whatever.”
“I said to him, "Can you take a photograph on your phone?" He said, "Of course I can." Then I said, "Yeah, but instead of using your camera on your phone, you're just going to use a different app. Should we download it?" So, we downloaded it.”
“Now all he does is just take photographs of the receipt. He’s in the petrol station or wherever, takes a photograph and uploads it to – an our case – Auto Entry.”
9. Email rules
“This idea is a bit clunky compared to all the others. It’s more of a fallback if you can’t do custom emails or Dext/Auto Entry.”
“Go onto your client’s system and create rules in their Outlook, to send certain emails to you automatically. You can set it up so that if an email contains the word invoice, then that email is automatically forwarded to you.”
“We’ve just had a question through about the automated reminders in AM. Yes, absolutely use them. I am actually anti-automated reminders unless they are done properly.”
Auto-emails are fantastic, but you can't just do it and forget about it. You need to be improving it all of the time.”
“You just need to change them regularly, so the language is different and as proactive as can be. The easiest way to do that is to change the subject line. You can stick emojis in it, the customer's first name in it, something like that.
10. Sack them
“This is a bit scary for lots of people, but if the client says that they're going to change… we increase the fee if they don't. If it continues, or they keep moaning about the fee, we tell them that we don't want to work with them anymore.”
“Now, I know that provokes all sorts of emotional responses… "Well, that client's worth £3,000 pounds a year, I can't let that client go.” But with that mindset, the client has control of the relationship.
You need to believe in that you’re as good as you are. If it's not working, let them go. Free yourself up to do more valuable work.”
“If you’re tolerating the client’s behavior, what you're saying to yourself is ‘you're not worth it and your plan B is weaker than the client’s’. Because you believe clients can go and get the service they're getting from you, from any other accountant, which is rubbish, because you're unique.”
11. Send text messages
“Text messages get a far better response than emails, but use them sparingly.”
“In AM you can set up text messages to chase the client if you need a tax return signed for example. Now, you'll get one of two things. They'll either sign the return, or at some point they'll ring you up and say, "Simon, will you stop sending me these text messages?”
“Then your reply can be, "Yeah, I will stop sending them, as soon as you sign that tax return please."
12. Take pictures
“Tell your clients that they can take a picture of the information you need. They don't have to come into the office with the invoice, or email it to you, or print it out. All they need to do is take a picture and WhatsApp or text it to you (or upload it to their AM Portal).”
“Explain that you don't need the original. We've still got customers that didn't know that we don't need the physical copy of the invoice, because nobody's ever told them.”
“The second point to this is using pictures to communicate what we want to the client. A classic example is the authentication codes. We were having great difficulty getting codes back from the client before the time limit ran out.”
“All we did was take a photograph of what the authentication code packet looked like., And just putting in the picture of what it looked like, massively increased the response rate. We very rarely now have to chase somebody, because they know what it looks like.”
13. Mind your language
Language is very, very, very important. The way you use language tells the client lots of things about how and what it is that you need. If you’re ringing a client and you say "Hello, Mr. Jones. When you get around to it, can you let us have them?" That's obviously it's really rubbish language.
Be careful verbally as you're talking to the client and definitely in the automated emails that are going out from the system.”
“There are two examples in particular that people use in business that are incredibly weak.”
“The first one is try. Can you try and do that for us? ‘Try’ automatically implies failure and the client is less likely to do it. Stop your tries, shoulds, coulds, woulds, ifs – stop the flowery language and tell the client what it is that you want.”
“The second one is don't forget. Now, the brain has real difficulty processing negatives. If you use the words don't forget, the brain puts aside the ‘don't and only hears the ‘forget’.”
“Change those words to please remember. It's very subtle, but you'll see an improved response to your communication just by working in the positive, rather than negative.”
14. Take responsibility
“We’re delivering a service and it’s our responsibility to serve our clients to the best of our ability. If the customer isn’t doing what we want, it's our responsibility to help them change.”
Any communication is only as good as the response it elicits. If it's eliciting a rubbish response, change your communication.”
“Don't sit there on a Friday night with a glass of wine, moaning. It's your responsibility to improve your communication and get the information when you want it, or decide to stop working with that client.”
Socks Up Simon’s final thoughts
“I ask people, "How do you manage processes in your practice? How do you know when the bank returns are due?" They say, "Well, it's all in my head’, or “Excel spreadsheets."
“If you're not an AccountancyManager user and you've not got any practice management software at all, then sort yourself out!”
“You could save so much time using AccountancyManager. It's just an absolute no brainer. The return on investment of implementing a piece of software like that properly is huge.”
“Just one word of caution, it's not an instant fix. You don't just pay money to AccountancyManager and the following day, it's unicorns and candy floss. You need to invest the time in making sure the system works for you.”
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