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client communication | accountingweb | Make sure to listen properly to potential clients
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Find the right way to communicate with clients

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Communication preferences are important when winning prospective clients. Rachel Harris brings her personal perspective to how best to approach practical communication preferences within your firm.

14th Aug 2023
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I’m a profoundly deaf business owner. The implementation of communication preference conversations with clients in my practice came from my own difficulty in finding, enquiring, and working with suppliers within my business. Here are my communication preferences.

  1. Email is my number one preference. I can be confident I’ve understood everything, not misheard anything and the conversation won’t drain my very important hearing fatigue battery.
  2. My second preference would be a video call on a platform that has closed captions or subtitles available. This means I can read what the person is saying using the subtitles on screen. (If you’ve not used this functionality before, I’d recommend checking it out. Subtitles have come a long way from hitting 888 on Teletext and reading misspelled words 10 minutes after they’ve been said!) This way I can hear as much as possible using my hearing aids, support that hearing with subtitles, and react to body language and facial expressions.
  3. My hearing loss means there’s no hope of chatting to me on the phone. I can connect my phone to my hearing aid via Bluetooth but it’s simply not good enough to have a proper conversation, let alone make a business spending decision based on.

With those preferences, in 2023, you might be surprised by how many doors and enquiry tickets have been closed to me as the decision-maker in my business. Despite having a need for that product or service and money to spend, I’ve had suggestions of “appointing a hearing person to the role of the decision-maker, if I’m incapable of making the decision myself” all of the way through to people who ignore communication preferences entirely and repeatedly call a phone which has a voicemail that politely explains that I’m deaf.

Preference conversation

There are practical steps that we can take as practice owners to make sure we are not only inviting that preference conversation to happen, but also how we can make sure we are meeting those needs.

Do you have more than one way for existing clients to reach out to you? Or to receive a proposal or quotation?

  • Emails are fantastic for people like me, who can’t hear but they might be a nightmare for someone with dyslexia or ADHD.
  • Telephone calls wouldn’t work for a deaf person but would be brilliant for someone who struggles to read or finds big emails overwhelming.
  • Video calls are a great way to chat if someone struggles with anxiety. They can get a feel for you and understand how your body language is feeding into the conversation. Don’t forget to check your video call platform’s closed-captioning functionality.
  • Walk and talk is a preference we’ve built into our practice for clients who have ADHD and struggle to talk on the phone for long periods without getting distracted, or for people who have financial anxiety levels. If a client books this type of call, both they and the accountant walk and talk during the call. This calms a lot of anxiety, increases their mindfulness, and means they’re much more present and focused on the conversation than they would be if they were at a desk.

It’s okay if some of these preferences don’t align with you and they won’t all be suitable in every situation or with every client.

Compassion and openness

My journey to these preferences hasn’t been a straightforward one. No one taught me how to be deaf or how to be a deaf accountant and I had no idea what being a deaf business owner looked like either. When your preferences aren’t the norm, compassion and an openness to meet needs can go a long way. As a consumer, I’d much rather spend a high sum of money with a supplier who understands and cares about these preferences than the cheaper alternative.

What’s important is choice, understanding and compassion. Consider these three words next time you are reviewing your current processes for new and existing clients.

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By JazzySasha
15th Aug 2023 13:26

Thank you - a very interesting and well written article.

I've also experienced the 'being considered incapable of being the decision maker' but due to being a woman. I'm sorry you've had a similar experience, but for the an arguably worse reason that your disability is considered to affect your intelligence and capabilities.

The considerations you have highlighted are an excellent way of encouraging true diversity in the workplace.

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