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An illustration showing communication between two people getting lost in translation.

When communication gets lost in translation


Could you be losing between 20% to 35% of your clients or prospective clients because you’re not asking one question? That's the question Rachel Harris explores. 

3rd Jul 2023
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You chat with a client over the phone, a passionate and creative person who is making good money. 

They are engaged in everything you’re saying, there is a really great alignment between your core values and it’s one of those clients you get only good vibes from. 

You quote, they accept, but it goes downhill from there. 

The relationship started so well

They get a beautifully written onboarding email which asks them to complete a letter of engagement, anti-money laundering checks and a direct debit mandate. They sign their letter of engagement after three email reminders from your frustrated client coordinator, they don’t send proof of ID or address for anti-money laundering checks and that direct debit mandate that you asked them to sign has timed out, with no hope of being revived. 

Your administrator or onboarding department has decided that the client is a huge red flag, but you’ve invested time trying to onboard them and you remember how brilliant the client was in that initial chat.

You call the client yourself to run through the final onboarding items and again, have a fantastic conversation. They action everything you ask them to, no questions asked and you pass the client over to their new accountant. 

Things start to go downhill

Two months later, the accountant comes to you pulling their hair out. The same client is causing problems: they are unresponsive to reminders, have an overdue confirmation statement but can’t find their authentication code and are just generally a “terrible client”.

You’ve invested the admin time onboarding them, you’ve got work in progress you can’t bill for until the work gets pushed over the line and again, that conversation you had with them just doesn’t align with your team’s experience. 

Your staff are frustrated, too. They are not working with clients that can work with them, they don’t feel valued by clients who ignore them, but it’s one of those clients you have a soft spot for, based on that initial conversation. 

You’re sitting at your desk asking yourself what went wrong?

The client’s side of the story

Let's run through the same scenario from your client's perspective.

Meet Alex. Alex is a creative and passionate artist. Alex is also neurodivergent. 

He is amazing at what he does, makes great money and has built his working life around his own needs (one of the best bits of being self-employed!). Alex is looking for an accountant because the finance and admin side of his business stresses him out. 

He wants someone to support him and help him feel on top of things. He searches for an accountant, calls you and has a fantastic chat. You quote over the phone, the price is reasonable and he accepts and is excited to become a client.

From there, Alex doesn’t receive any more calls, which is his preference (and why he called you!) because he really struggles to manage his inbox. He finds emails overwhelming and struggles to prioritise tasks. 

He answers one really frustrated email from your client coordinator who seems to be asking for something Alex doesn’t understand – and it looks like she’s asking for the third time. He signs a letter of engagement which was at the top of the email he saw and moves on with his day.

He receives a call from you a little while later, actions everything you ask of him as you talk him through it. He has a great catch-up with you and feels much better about working together in the future because you’re communicating with him in a way that makes him feel much more in control and relaxed. 

A couple of months later, he checks his emails and sees lots of red emails from Companies House, saying that there are items overdue. 

He’s really confused and frustrated because he had a great first call with you. You made him feel really comfortable but since then he feels like he’s been forgotten; people are chasing him, no one is communicating with him in a way that makes him feel good and now he’s getting chased by Companies House for things he’s asked you for help with. 

He’s sitting at his desk asking himself what went wrong?

So, what did go wrong?

I can tell you what went wrong. This entire situation could have been prevented by adding one question to your prospective client checklist: Do you have any communication preferences?

Communication disabilities affect millions of people. Up to 14 million people in the UK (20% of the population) will experience communication difficulty at some point in their lives and you don’t need a disability to have a preference either. 

It is thought that up to 15% of the population are neurodiverse. Past that, we see people who don’t sit in either the disabled or neurodiverse categories who also have a preference. Whether they simply don’t like speaking on the phone, or they consume information much better when delivered at a scheduled time, rather than an unsolicited phone call, lots of us have a preference. I know I do.

Because of their neurodiversity, those 15% of the population lean towards self-employed life. Current research shows that there are now over 6.5 million freelancers and solo self-employed people in the UK. 

Numerous studies also show that between 20 to 35% of freelancers, solo self-employed people and entrepreneurs are neurodivergent, this could amount to more than two million people coming from the neurodiverse community alone. 

Are you asking the question?

So, could you be losing between 20-35% of your clients or prospective clients because you’re not asking one question?

Of course, this topic goes much deeper than one question, but that one question is a really great place to start. 

For us, we’ve built communication preferences into every touch point with clients, adding bespoke CRM data captures for every client to support them best. 

We build those preferences into the client’s unique support plans. Furthermore, our team has undergone training to help them to better support the needs of people with communication difficulties, which has all been driven by my own personal struggles as a profoundly deaf business owner.

So, next time you’re chatting to a client. Whether existing or prospective, I challenge you to ask them one question: Do you have any communication preferences?