Keeping up with incessant client emails is without doubt one of the biggest banes of running a modern accountancy firm. There is no escaping the beep, as a new message pings into your inbox.
AccountingWEB members have more reason to fear this recurring thorn in their side, seeing as this stress will soon coincide with another: self-assessment season. A lively Any Answers thread started by Tickers acted as a support network for practitioners needing a boost before they are interrupted yet again by a client email.
Tickers escaped their emails to explain: “This is a problem which I can't seem to find a solution to, other than significantly increase my fees. My emails and telephone never stops with never-ending questions about very basic client problems.”
Despite engagement letters with terms set out, the emails keep coming. “The problem is that each email has to be read and replied too which all takes time and energy,” the AccountingWEB member said.
Clients expect instant reply
Tickers is far from alone. Manchester Man reminisced about how changes such as client communication have drastically reshaped the profession over the last 15 years.
“Back then, I saw most clients once per year, did their year-end accounts and tax returns, had a meeting where we could discuss the accounts and where I could give any necessary advice, then hand them a bill,” the member said. “These days, it very much feels like the year-end accounts are a tiny part of what we do.”
Manchester Man said the problem with “voluminous” amount of emails is that client’s expect a reply on the same day, if not straight away. When an email is not followed up on the same day, the AccountingWEB regular knows he will receive a nudge from the client asking "did you get my email yesterday?" and "hope you're ok, we haven't heard from you".
How to break the routine
Breaking this routine is a hurdle but many AccountingWEB members have taken the leap. I’msorryIhaven’taclue believes this problem exists because practitioners have employed a free unlimited access model. “New entrants misunderstand that, and think they have to solve their clients' problems for free,” the member advised.
To help pluck others from this email burden, the AccountingWEB community shared their strategies. When emails affect your productivity like it has for Tickers, Andy Partridge says brevity could the ease the stress.
“If you get emails that require a detailed answer either acknowledge it with a one liner to buy you time and/or give a brief outline answer and provide an estimated fee for a more detailed analysis.”
I really should know this but… agreed, saying: “I have a wide selection of two minute guides I have written which I send out to common questions, or cut and paste it in, and spend a lot of time on cover letters etc so can say "please see the cover letter I sent to you on XYZ" which explains the common questions such as "how much is my tax bill?" "how do I pay it?"
Set boundaries…or get software to do it for you
The key to ending the client email conveyor belt is to set boundaries. As AccountingWEB member Marks sets out, “Generally I just reply to emails between 1 and 2pm and 4 and 5pm each day (otherwise you would get nothing done during the rest of the day).”
And a detailed response should come with a cost. Marks added: “If it is quick response, can be dealt with in under 5 mins, then I just reply with the answer. If more than that I say it requires further research/investigation. Our cost for dealing with it is £x do you want me to proceed?”
Software could also provide a solution. As Glennzy suggests, practice management software like Accountancy Manager and Senta splits client emails. The aforementioned software can separate the clients set up in your practice management system from everything else. “That way you could deal with clients first then maybe login into the other stuff once or twice per day,” he explained.
But as Matrix says, the constant stream of emails isn’t such a bad thing: it shows your value. “Clients trust us and therefore end up asking us everything since they know we will reply competently. I like this and would not want to lose this.”
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.