What makes a successful collaboration strategy for accountants and their clients? Collaboration goes beyond merely working for a client – accountants and clients must work together to reach a common goal. Keeping clients engaged in the process gives them the opportunity to provide details and valuable insight into their financial transactions.
By taking the time to ask questions about transaction details vs. making assumptions, your clients will learn what you need from them, reducing the need for you to ask repetitive questions. As the relationship progresses, clients will learn how to work with your team more effectively. Effective collaboration through communication, expectation, and readjustment helps create better data for clients and demonstrates the value of your services.
Successful collaboration begins with an effective communication strategy. Think of communication as the hub from which all transactional functions are driven. When communicating with clients (especially remotely), it is important that messages are clear, concise, and direct. Most of the time, explaining the “why” to clients can create confusion – make your questions or requests for information simple and direct to make it easy for clients to understand and respond.
For example, sending a message to a client saying “please send X document so I can do Y with it to fulfill Z purpose” is too much detail. A simpler, more direct message is “Please send X document.” Express your need to have that need met.
It’s also important to commit to and use an appropriate mode of communication. Choose a simple, secure and collaborative option that is easy to engage with, like Client Hub. In addition, remember that defining how to communicate with clients is just as important as what is contained in the message. Create clear timelines, systems, and workflows for communication.
At the beginning of each engagement, clear expectations should be set related to response times and deliverables for both the accounting team and the client staff. Set basic guidelines for how your team should respond to general client inquiries so they don’t feel pressured to react immediately. Consider a response time of 1-2 business days or on the days you process their work. Let clients know how quickly they can expect replies. When it comes to “urgent” requests, clearly define what is and isn’t urgent. Make exceptions when necessary.
A similar set of guidelines should be set for client responses to your questions and requests for documents or information. The timing should be directly related to your work schedule for each client. As an example, if you process client work weekly on Thursdays, ask clients to respond to all inquiries by the end of the day on Wednesday. If you handle their accounting monthly, set a day of the month to receive responses that is at least a few days prior to the date you are scheduled to process the work.
When it comes to expectations, keep in mind you can always raise the bar but it’s much harder to lower the bar once the precedent has been set. Keep expectations realistic and attainable for all parties.
Readjust as Need
The goal of the accountant – client relationship should always be successful client collaboration. This is a continual give and take between each party. If a significant number of client inquiries seem to require immediate response or clients are not being responsive to your requests, it might be time to evaluate the service levels and work with your client to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the timeline works for all parties.
Collaboration helps to ensure a delightful working experience for you, your team and your clients. Adopting the mindset of working with your clients vs. for them will help to build a more solid relations of trust, respect and understanding.