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Practice Tips - if someone writes to you, write back

15th Jul 2005
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Sometimes the obvious has to be said. And it seems obvious to me that if a client has written you then you need to write back. So why is it that I have spent most of my career persuading the accountants that have worked for me that this is the case?

Some people (like me) like writing. But we’re in a tiny minority within the population. For most people writing a letter is difficult. That means you have to assume that the effort the person has expended in writing to you deserves to be matched by an equivalent response from you if you want to keep the sender happy.

What does that mean? Well, I reckon a response within 24 hours is required in most cases (although I aim for much less for emails). True, the response might be “I’ve got to think about what you’ve asked me, but I’ll come back to you within a week” or it might be “Sorry, I can’t help”. Either reassures the sender their efforts are not being ignored.

And when I do respond I try very hard to respond to the questions the person has raised. This again, is something it took me years to teach some people to do. When a person writes to you about something they’re usually worried about it. They don’t need to know all you know about the subject. They have already assumed you’re an expert by asking you the question. What they want is for you to use that expertise to alleviate their concern, and nothing more.

So when you do write back summarise what you think they’re asking in their letter, then answer it. Only then invite them to think about it from a different perspective which your expertise provides, if that is what you think is appropriate. And then ask them for positive feedback. For example, add the sentence “If there are any issues you think I have not covered and which still concern me please do call me. I’ll be happy to discuss them.” This empowers them to ask.

But never, ever, ignore their plea for help. Because that’s what just about every letter and email from a client is, and if you want to keep them this is the most certain way to do so.

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone



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