It’s widely regarded that accountants are one of the most important people in any business. They can save companies money and are the key to its financial success.
But accountants have always suffered from a poor image. They have been traditionally predicted as dull, aloof and impersonal, with people assuming they enjoy working on their own without much interference from others.
New cloud software is taking over much of the work traditionally carried out by accountants and bookkeepers. While efficiencies are improving, aspects of the accounting role are being made redundant. Business owners can access financial data such as payroll, budgets and management reports at any time on any device.
The benefits of those simpler tasks being easily done by the business owner are that accountants will have more time to offer in-depth and appropriate financial expertise, which will improve their overall client service. There is an opportunity here for accountants to become key advisors to their clients, as long as they have one particular skill set.
The one skill accountants are known for not having, is the same one that is holding them back from really capitalising on the opportunity in front of them: communication skills.
While they have more time to interact with clients, many don’t know how to embrace this freedom and do this effectively as they have never been people-orientated. Here are the essential key skills we recommend people practice and develop to improve their ability to communicate effectively.
Empathy is the key to nurturing good relationships with clients. It is regarded as the top ‘soft skill’ that accountants require. It’s the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions and have the skill to deal with them effectively whatever the situation.
Accountants can become more empathetic by asking questions with a strong intention to understand their clients and what they want.
Meeting with clients in person rather than through Skype or Zoom is always more effective. A face-to-face conversation is powerful as it’s a way of developing a real understanding of their issues and a client will be more prepared to open up.
When people are feeling uncomfortable communicating, it’s very common for them to only want to talk about topics they know and understand. So, for example an accountant might, in a meeting with a client, go straight into talking about work and what’s going on with the accounts, because that’s something they can speak confidently about.
This puts little to no emphasis on building rapport with a client though. Having rapport, and a level of trust from a client, are vital to keeping their business. So, our suggestion is to start easing into any conversations with clients. Have a small amount of chit-chat time where they can engage in day-to-day conversations. This helps build relationships and demonstrates that there is an interest in the client’s life outside work.
Keep communication clear
Confusion can be created because of jargon and technical knowledge. It’s important for accountants to keep communication simple and clear and to ensure that clients really understand what they mean. This is the best way to ensure they’re on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Practise your people skills
Accountants can ask friends and colleagues to help them to identify and develop so called ‘soft skills’ at work and elsewhere. Once areas of weakness are identified, then accountants can focus on improving these weak skills.
Being aware of behaviours and mannerisms is the first step to being able to change.
Be an active listener
Clients want to be heard and reassured that accountants understand their requirements and needs. Listening is the action of giving someone your complete attention with an intention to understand them. You also want to make sure they know you’ve been listening. The best way to do this is to acknowledge what they’ve said. Once they’re done, saying something like: “Okay, let me just make sure I understand what you’re saying”, and then repeating back to them in your own words what they said or asked for, is a great way to prove you’ve listened and understood.
Another way to let someone know you’ve been listening is to offer suggestions and solutions to their problem. Even if it’s not something you yourself can fix, offering a solution to a client’s problem not only shows you are listening to what they’re saying, but it also demonstrates that you are there to help.
Tell them what’s important
Offering advice on ways which may lower expenses or increase returns on investment will help to build relationships and earn trust.
Clients deserve to be told about matters which are relevant to their financial wellbeing. Offering additional services and talking about ways to maximise their financial goals are all important discussion topics.
Think about long-term client relationships
The ability to engage clients and ensure they have a good experience is paramount and is centred around good communication and connection skills.
The bottom line is that humans make decisions based on how they feel, so clients are deciding about accountants based on how they feel towards them.
If a client meets an accountant who they can interact and relate to, they will prefer that experience and continue a business relationship with them.