Since strong client relationships contribute to client satisfaction, longevity and lead generation, partners often encourage their managers and staff to build relationships with their clients. But these managers and staff look at the relationships their firm’s partners have built over time and think it’s impossible to replicate their results. However, building relationships with clients can be done using the same behaviors that we use when building friendships and courting our spouse or significant other. Consider these 12 tips to build client relationships, especially during tax season, prime time for in-person client contact.
1. Be prepared. Just like you would plan a date or activity with a friend, plan for your client meetings. Review client files. Identify unmet needs. Learn more about the industry in which the client operates. Create a meeting agenda and a list of questions to ask. Benchmark client financial statistics vs. their industry or peers.
2. Be thoughtful. We want to be friends and share our lives with people who are thoughtful. When you are thoughtful, others are more inclined to be thoughtful in return. Mail or email articles you think your client might like. Be respectful of their time. Be complimentary. Actively listen. Ask about and follow up on life events like vacations, community activities and children’s accomplishments.
3. Keep your promises. Failing to keep your word can destroy the trust in a relationship. Set realistic deadlines—and keep them. Do what you say you will do.
4. Share your interests. Relationships deepen when we share our interests with each other. Ask your clients about their interests out of the office. Find out what you have in common. Invite your clients to attend events with you. Plenty of business is conducted on the golf course, at the ball game, at dinner after the theatre, and at charitable functions.
5. Discuss the big things. Relationships are built through meaningful conversation. Ask your clients about their vision, goals and plans for the future. Be willing to have the difficult conversations. Understand their expectations for services you are delivering to them.
6. Listen. Most people talk at about 150 words per minute; we listen at three to four times that rate. This gives us plenty of time to be distracted and not hear what our clients are telling us. Pay full attention. Actively listen, which includes looking at the person talking, taking notes, asking questions, and using nonverbal cues like making eye contact, nodding your head, and smiling.
7. Be able to laugh at yourself. Having a sense of humor is one of the keys to a successful relationship. Enjoy the time spent with clients. Admit when you make a mistake and quickly correct it.
8. Be open to new ideas and experiences. The needs and goals of your clients may change over time. Be open to ideas that clients suggest. Consider new and different ways to do what you already do. Learn new services and specialties that will be of value to your clients.
9. Be available. It is impossible to build relationships without spending time together. Arrange face-to-face time during the year other than when the primary engagement is being performed. Be responsive to client requests. Return voicemail and email messages promptly.
10. Be willing to give all of your attention. Giving your client 100 percent of your attention is bonding and powerful. When meeting in person, eliminate disruptions, take notes, actively listen and mute your smartphone. When talking on the telephone, focus on your conversation. Do not check your email, review reports or tax returns. Focus on the client at hand.
11. Be proactive. One of the main reasons clients change CPA firms is that their CPA is not proactive enough. Anticipate client needs. Suggest additional services. Spend face-to-face time throughout the year. Provide ideas.
12. Be friends. Build your client base with those people you enjoy spending time with.
By implementing these 12 tips, just as you would when building friendships and courting your spouse or significant other, you will build longer-lasting, significant client relationships.
This blog post was originally featured in Accounting Tomorrow on February 12, 2013.