How to extract data from clients

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In August, AccountingWEB member Peter Saxton touched a nerve when he complained, “Clients seem incapable of answering more than one email.”

He continued: “If I ask a client if the attached company information is correct AND ask them for the SIC code(s) in the same email I usually get an answer to one of the questions, but not both.”

With self assessment season looming on the horizon, Saxton asked for help from the AccountingWEB community to find new ways of extracting multiple answers from clients. Numerous useful suggestions were advanced to solve his specific problem; this article summarises this advice and widens the net to look at other techniques gaining ground within the profession. Register or log in to to see the full article, which covers:

  • The problem with email
  • Practical email tips
  • Use text!
  • Client portals and e-signatures
  • The right tools for the job

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About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and


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26th Sep 2012 13:53

How to extract data from clients
I think it is very important to know our clients well and find out what works for them. They are busy running their business day to day and the paperwork can easily get forgotten. For one client a late afternoon phone call always works as he will then call me back while driving home. For another client, a friendly text reminder is the answer.

Marion Thomson

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By hiu612
27th Sep 2012 11:36

Send an interim bill with the info request

There is nothing like a fee note to encourage clients to provide answers to questions, or at least to make them phone you up, giving you a chance to chase it.

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27th Sep 2012 12:36

How to extract data from clients

I don't understand why there is a problem.  I always do those items listed in this article. Dont get me wrong, my experience is the same as everyone. They dont read or try to understand emails. One of my client even sent me shortened words and phrases which I have to ask my son to translate.  I agree with UHY WKH Partnership. Client always response if you give them an interim invoice.


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27th Sep 2012 13:37


Keep request simple.

Ensure that the client realises the importance of said info, also that they know it is in their financial interest to provide it promptly.

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27th Sep 2012 14:17

It's good to talk!

I realise there are limits if you have a large number of clients, but if a client doesn't respond to the first written communication I always tell my team to phone them. Many clients simply don't look at their email on a regular basis, especially those who work away from an office base. In those cases, a quick call to their mobile usually gets the response we need. Plus clients like to have a chat, it makes it a more personal thing and it can often open up a conversation on something that will turn into an additional fee.

Nothing makes me more frustrated than the team member who, as a deadline approaches, says to me "but I emailed them weeks ago". Waste of time. Just phone them!

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27th Sep 2012 15:35

Additional service


I'd suggest this is discussed as part of the package and positioned as a higher level service.

You can explain that some clients are very organised, others that need the odd reminder but some prefer higher levels of support because they hate paperwork and often don't open letters or respond to emails. 

You can go on and say that you don't like to charge extras so it's important that if additional support is required it is built into the fee.

If they don't play ball explain that fee will go up from next month to cover the extra support. If you do this it would be good to collect fees by direct debit. 


North London Accountants

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By P2
27th Sep 2012 16:01

Letter as pdf in Dropbox

I am a little concerned to hear that Dropbox may have security issues - see lead article above. Please can somebody let me know what these issues are.  If there are serious issues I may need to reconsider my preferred method of sharing sensitive information which is currently to write a standard letter on headed paper, following most of the best practice as laid out in the lead article.  I then print and save this letter with any accompanying sheet - matters arising/how resolved - etc. as a .pdf file and pop it into the public folder in Dropbox. 

I then e-mail the client the security code to access the document from the Dropbox, which of course they can do in their own time and at a time which best suits them.  To encourage a timely response, in the e-mail transmittal I say that "the papers will be available for download for seven days".  This allows me to clear the Dropbox on a regular basis and keep within the FREE allowance for this very useful service.  I hope this is useful commentary.  Please DO say if you think there are security issues.  Many thanks, P2.

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28th Sep 2012 09:25

Sorry - the missing Dropbox link

My apologies P2, when drafting the article I meant to include a link to previous articles and Any Answers threads on Dropbox.

From what the majority of our members are saying, it is fast becoming a de facto method for document transmission but the non-technical gist of the objections is that it's "good for granny's snaps, but not confidential client information".

More recently, there was a security scare in August when a Dropbox employee's email was hacked, and this  led to their account on the site where a project document containing thousands of Dropbox users' email addresses was stored.

Since one of the Dropbox issues raised was the privacy of material stored on US servers (where it could theoretically be accessed by staff and US authorities), this was as bad as it can get. The incident confirmed that internal data protection wasn't of the highest standard, and the advisability of encrypting any confidential material you might store on the site.

With all of that on the table, it appears that many Aweb members are happy to continue using Dropbox because their clients are comfortable with it. So if it has worked for you so far with no problem, I would make a measured assessment of the risks and consider what would happen if someone did access your files.

Given the transient nature of the files you're exchanging, and that the individual letters may not list the records and details of your clients, you may not need to take the most alarmist stance. But for serious professional use with large numbers of clients, perhaps you should also investigate some of the professional solutions and alternatives suppliers and recommended by the participants in our Dropbox debate.


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By thacca
28th Sep 2012 18:53

Water Boarding?

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29th Sep 2012 09:39

The old methods are the best.
A bright light and a rubber hose,Pliers applied to the finger nailsDelicate parts of the anatomy connected to the electricity mains.


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01st Oct 2012 11:46

I always find that when told of the

tax liability clients suddenly have the memory of the combined group of NASA scientists who put man on the moon when recalling expenses incurred/finding receipts/proof of purchase etc.


So perhaps as an alternative....perhaps simply send a letter to the client advising that in the absence of the business records, you have estimated the clients tax liability as being £1k,£10k etc (select according to client)...but this may reduce pending receipt of records....and then just wait for the barrage of calls....

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