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How to answer the most annoying client questions

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9th Mar 2015
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AccountingWEB members recently voted for their most annoying client queries after an Any Answers sparked off a debate about curious clients. 

The top three were:

  1. 38 votes: My friend down the pub says… 
  2. 24 votes: Why is my profit so much more than what’s in the bank?
  3. 19 votes: I've done my bookkeeping and accounts, I just need to do the statutory accounts/filing

Of course, clients are always going to ask questions - and the fact that they feel comfortable enough with you to do so is a positive thing. Open dialogue should be encouraged - after all, accountants are the first point of contact for business advice for the majority of small-to-medium-sized business, BIS recently reported.

But it does get to a point where accountants may feel like they are treading water with annoying or repetitive questions from clients. 

While your first reaction may be to feel annoyed, there are some ways of dealing with these. 

Firstly, consider having a fact sheet or FAQ page on your website in which you explain key terms in a few words - such as cash flow, profit and loss, and explaining some of the key questions. For example, why taking tax advice from your mates may not be a good idea.

This way you can point prospects and new clients here for 'further reading' - so they have access to information if they need it. 

Something digital-savvy firm Kinder Pocock does is try to formulate commonly asked client questions into blogs, from FAQ to tech tips - such as this one they have written on Xero quotes. This means that instead of responding straight off to an email, they will write the answer into a blog post and point all those asking similar to this. 

Some more off the wall ideas include having a Google Hangout Q&A with clients or a section of client meetings where you answer basic questions. 

But if you get asked these queries on the spot, Townsend suggests taking a deep breath, not getting defensive and instead perhaps challenging clients to think about their own logic by asking them questions back. 

"Remember to see the situation from their angle. They probably don’t have the years of training you have so don't know the pitfalls you do," she said.

While you may already know the answer, there's nothing like knowing in advance exactly how to field a question. Here's how the go-to expert suggests answering these three particular questions: 

1. My friend down the pub says... 

  • What qualifications does your friend hold? 
  • Will your friend down the pub take the rap for you if you get fined or penalties levied at you by HMRC?
  • How do you know your friend is correct?

2. Why is my profit so much more than what’s in my bank?

  • Your bank balance represents your cash flow. This is not the profit you made. Hopefully, the client knows the difference between cash flow and profit - but if not, it may require a patient explanation (or refer them to the FAQ section if you are strapped for time)

3. I've done my own bookkeeping and accounts, I just need to do the statutory accounts/filing

  • We are very happy to quote a fee for your statutory accounts/filing. Our concern is that we will still need to check your workings, which means there wouldn’t be as much of a reduction as you think you may get
  • It is great that you have been able to put together your own accounts. Are they up to the standard expected by HMRC and Companies House?

The thing to remember with any irritating or seemingly pointless client question is that old adage: "There's no such thing as a stupid question". And it is clear from AccountingWEB's experience with small-to-medium-sized businesses in our sister site's small business competition The Pitch that there is a lack of financial knowledge in some smaller companies

It's better your clients are asking about these things, than not - how would they ever learn anything otherwise? And who better to ask than the experts, after all - which is where you come in. 

What is your go-to response for annoying client questions? Are there any others you'd like to see us try to tackle?

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By Ninian
10th Mar 2015 18:48

Not wishing to demoralise anyone but......

........with one particular client, after about five years of going through p&l account and balance 

sheet, explaining things (or so I thought) and asking each year if everything made sense, after giving his usual assent in year 5 he then pointed to the balance sheet and remarked how fascinating it was that every year for five years the two totals matched each other. Hey ho.

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