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The simple secret to keeping your clients happy


The success of your accounting firm depends on many factors, not least among them keeping your clients happy. At times, Billie Anne Grigg acknowledges, you may follow all the necessary steps to achieve this and still find yourself dealing with people who seem unreasonable. Here, she discusses a simple secret that will turn many of those negative interactions into positive ones.

27th Feb 2023
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In the first three articles in this series, we’ve looked at what causes unreasonable and demanding client behavior. We’ve also discussed ways to alleviate this behavior during client onboarding and how to transition the client from that phase of the relationship without leaving them feeling abandoned.

All this effort should result in a happy client who is pleasant to work with, right? After all, you’ve done everything you can to set the client - and the relationship - up for success. The client is happy at the end of the onboarding process and often for months afterwards. You’re providing the services you agreed upon and deliver on time, every month. So, why do some clients still turn into nightmares?

The transition from dream to nightmare

There are any number of triggers that can cause a previously happy client to become unreasonable and demanding, but the underlying cause is almost always the same:

Communication. Or, more specifically, the lack of communication.

In the absence of communication, humans have a tendency to make up their own stories. Those stories are very rarely good.

I call this “dead in a ditch” thinking, and it hearkens back to my teenage years (and probably yours, too.) If you were late getting home and didn’t call your parents, chances are you got the tearful, “You could’ve been dead in a ditch!” speech just prior to getting grounded. For parents today, that translates to our own children not answering their cell phones or responding to our text messages to them in a timely manner.

I’m not saying our clients think we’re dead in a ditch. Rather, my point is that they are likely to make up a disastrous reason why you have fallen out of communication with them. This can trigger behavior that seems unreasonable and demanding to us. However, the client is just trying to get us to communicate with them again.

Back to a dream state

The fix for this is to adopt a strategy of over-communication. Your client will let you know if you’re starting to “bug” them, but don’t count on that happening. I cannot think of a single client in the past decade who has asked me to dial back the communication, but I can think of several who have asked for more.

If your engagement with the client includes quarterly meetings, send a monthly update email. If you meet with the client monthly, send a weekly update.

Some weeks or months you won’t have anything to report. Send an update anyway. To your client, no news isn’t good news. No news is no news and possibly bad news. It’s better to let the client know there’s nothing to update them on than have them making up stories about why they haven’t heard from you.

In fact, the “no news” periods are a great time to make your client aware of other services you offer that might benefit them. Those are things you can discuss in your next conversation with the client. Now you’ve sent a reminder of your next meeting, created an agenda for this meeting, and warmed them up for a sales conversation, all in one email.

Intersperse your email communications with phone calls. I heard a collective groan, but hear me out: Emails can fall to the bottom of the inbox or even end up in that dreaded Promos folder. A phone call, though, is a more personal touch that your client will appreciate. Block a “smile and dial” hour on your calendar each week, and use that time to call a few clients, just to check in.

This over-communication strategy will take extra work on your part, but remember one of the primary reasons people switch accountants is due to a lack of communication. If you want to keep your clients - and keep them happy - then communication is the key.

When nothing works

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from the last three articles, and I’m sure this one will result in some more. The one question that keeps coming up is, “What if I do everything right and the client is still a nightmare?”

I’m going to hold firm that there is no such thing as a bad client and that even a “bad fit” is rare, but rare doesn’t mean nonexistent. In the final article in this series, we’ll look at how to transition an unreasonable and demanding client out of your firm while possibly even turning them into a raving fan.

This article was orginally published on on 2 June 2021.

Replies (2)

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By indomitable
28th Feb 2023 16:25

Well of course communication is important but obsessing about keeping clients happy is a complete waste of effort if you want to grow.

Sounds like an article for a very small practice. What I have found as I have grown my practice is really not worry too much about what clients think, it shackles you.

Make sure you are offering a great service of course with good communication but

"If your engagement with the client includes quarterly meetings, send a monthly update email. If you meet with the client monthly, send a weekly update."

Absolutely not, a recipe for disaster unless you are charging more, you will end up eating into your profit.

What I have found is that if you give more for free, clients just expect more for free and you devalue yourself and your service

So my advice is provide a great service and if you are sure you provide a great service forget about what clients think

It is inevitable that you will lose some, the bigger you get that is the nature of business

I concentrate on providing the best service I can.

And the assumption that there is not such thing as a bad client I totally disagree with as well, there obviously are 'bad clients' that are not worth having

Thanks (1)
By Hugo Fair
28th Feb 2023 19:15

"This article was originally published on on 2 June 2021"
... which would explain all the Americanisms I guess?

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