Last week I took my wife out for food at a new Italian restaurant that had recently opened nearby.
We sat down at our table, ordered a bottle of wine, looked over the menu and ordered some food.
It was about 8:20pm at this point so we were both fairly hungry.
15 minutes passed, then 25 minutes, then 35 minutes, and our starters were still nowhere to be seen.
Eventually, I asked one of the waitresses why there was such a delay with our starters.
She replied “Sorry, we’re still getting to grips with things and the kitchen is really busy at the moment so there’s a slight delay on food”.
And after another 10 minutes of waiting, our starters finally arrived.
The mains were a bit quicker and we enjoyed the rest of the meal, but as I left the restaurant I couldn’t help but feel a little disgruntled by the long wait we’d had initially.
In hindsight, this could have all been avoided with some simple expectation management.
If at the time of ordering the waitress had said…
“We’re experiencing a slight delay on food tonight because we’re really busy so please bear with us and we’ll do our best to get it out as quickly as possible”
… I wouldn’t have questioned why the starters took so long to begin with, and I wouldn’t have left with a sour taste in my mouth.
So, what does this have to do with your accountancy practice?
“Without a systemised process for managing your clients’ expectations, you allow them to create their own.” – Click here to tweet this
Here’s an example to demonstrate this…
A client provides all of the necessary information for their accounts & CT return to be completed. You don’t give them a timeframe for when they can expect to receive a copy of the accounts ready to sign:
Your expectation – it’ll get done in the next 30 days
Client’s expectation – 10 days later, why haven’t my accounts been done? They had all of the information that they needed?
This is a simplified example but hopefully you get my point…
Anyway, a lack of systemised expectation management in your accountancy practice can lead to all kinds of difficult questions and conversations which I’m sure you’ve heard before:
- “Why has it taken so long to do this?”
- “I didn’t realise that you were going to charge me for this?”
- “This is too expensive, why is it so much?”
- “I didn’t know that I had to provide you with all of this”
- “What is it exactly that you do again?”
So how exactly do you go about systemising expectation management and reducing the risk of unhappy clients?
Here are 7 ways you can do that and exactly how to make it systemised:
PLEASE NOTE – The ‘systemised’ part of this is incredibly important. If things happen ad-hoc, they very rarely happen. For some of the ways below I’ll include a tip for how you can systemise it so that it happens every time.
1. Clearly define what you WILL do and what you WON’T do
Most practices are very good at telling clients what they will do but fall down on the second part.
If clients don’t have a good understanding of what is and isn’t involved in your scope of work, then they’re going to expect everything for nothing. And when you tell them that you can’t/won’t do it, you risk damaging the relationship.
Tip for systemising – Start by making sure your clients are aware exactly what’s included in their scope of work. Then explain to them that for any additional work that may arise, you’ll send them a revised engagement letter and that it needs signing before any additional work can begin. If they know and understand this upfront, it should reduce the chances of them questioning why there is an additional charge.
2. Clearly define exactly what the client will and won’t do
This doesn’t just work one-way.
In order to complete your job, you will need things from clients at certain times so it’s important that they’re completely aware of their responsibilities and that they’re not just buried away in your engagement letter.
Tip for systemising – when a new client joins have a member of your team give them a quick onboarding call. Amongst other things, part of this call can be to run through exactly what their responsibilities are in terms of when and how is best to submit info to you. For example, if you use a portal, explain to them how it works.
3. Agree on the best methods for communicating
If you’re looking to reduce the time you spend working in your practice, then you need to reduce the reliance that your clients have on you. One way to do this is to have dedicated client care managers who act as the first point of call for any client questions or queries. This way, your day isn’t getting interrupted by clients and your managers can most likely deal with some of the queries themselves.
Tip for systemising – It helps to have clearly defined client grades. This way, your first-class clients might have more direct contact e.g. mobile number, whereas your economy clients might have a general office line to get through to their relevant client care manager.
4. Communicate consistently
Expectations change as time goes on. By communicating with clients regularly, you can address any issues or changes in their expectations and deal with them accordingly.
Tip for systemising – Implement a courtesy call system where somebody in your team (ideally not you) calls your clients on a quarterly basis (or more or less depending on their grade) to check how they’re getting on and discuss any questions or issues they have. One of my clients implemented this and found a number of his clients had differing expectations around the turnaround time of work. As a result, his team was able to rectify this and manage their expectations going forwards.
5. Set clear goals and agree milestones
If you want to manage what clients expect in terms of results, then you need to set mutually agreed goals and milestones so that you’re both clear on what the ‘results’ look like. This is an important step in getting you both singing from the same hymn sheet.
6. Under promise, over-deliver
It’s easy to promise the world to clients, and it’s even easier to under-deliver on this promise. Being modest about what results you can get them and by when gives you and your team some wiggle room for when anything unexpected happens.
7. Ask them what they expect from you
This is an interesting question to ask clients, which when positioned correctly can throw up some interesting responses. Most people will have their own expectations (possibly based on experiences working with previous accountants) so it’s worth asking this question to find out what they are.
Tip for systemising – Consider adding this as a point to the agenda during the meeting where you are signing prospects up. This way, you can address any mismatches in expectations before any work has begun.
Managing client expectations is an ongoing process
This isn’t some one-off event.
As time goes on, your expectations and the expectations of your clients are likely to change.
By having systems in place for managing them consistently, you’ll not only keep your clients happy, but you’ll more than likely see an increase in client retention and hopefully word of mouth referrals.
What are you currently doing to manage your clients’ expectations?
Let me know in the comments below…