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Client Communications in the 21st Century – What Works?


Let’s start with what doesn’t work: clients late for meetings, phone tag, and e-mail hell. If your primary communications methods are: meetings, phone calls, and e-mail, you’re losing out on a lot of money and a saner life.

21st century clients want all the same things 20th century clients wanted, just in new ways. They still want great service at reasonable prices with insightful financial and business advice. They just want all of that provided differently.

Communications preferences of 20th century clients

  • Having an accountant was viewed as a sign of affluence.
  • Meetings are at least an annual event.
  • “When you have something to say to a man, look him in the eyes. The telephone is for cowards.” 1960’s and 1970’s
  • Which evolved into “Pick up the phone when you have something to say. E-mail is for cowards.” 1980’s and 1990’s
  • Our services revolved around meetings and we even prescheduled tax season meetings. Clients got their advice from neighbors. “My neighbor deducts his dog’s medical expenses and never gets audited.”

Not only are meetings, phone calls, and e-mails inconvenient for you, 21st century clients don’t like them either. Exposure to continuous marketing and constant interruption makes people value time over almost any other currency including crisp new Harriet Tubman twenties.

Communications preferences of 21st century clients

  • Accountants are part of a spoke of advisors where the client is the hub.
  • Clients expect us to work with other advisors – often without client involvement. “Just get it done.”
  • Meetings and telephone calls are intrusions.
  • E-mail, text, and opt in communications media predominate.
  • Clients want us to provide all the same services and benefits in ways that take less of their time.
  • Time is a valued currency and they’re willing to substitute money for time in many cases. Clients get their tax advice from Google.

Traffic makes meetings miserable. Telemarketing has largely killed the telephone. Spam has nearly strangled e-mail. Our clients are tired of time stolen unnecessarily. That’s great news for us, as all three of these media can be time and productivity killers for us.

If you have 1,000 tax clients, who each require three 15 minute phone calls to complete their returns, at a $200 billing rate, you invest $150K in telephone time per year.

If you can cut that by 25%, you are saving $37.5K over a year. That’s a year’s college tuition for the parents among us.

It’s not just about saving money and enhancing productivity. Adopting 21st century communications techniques yields a younger client base, and a younger client base is more valuable at retirement. If you were buying a firm, would you rather purchase a client base of 75 year olds or a client base of 40 year olds? Yes, you’ll lose clients, but you’ll gain better, more profitable ones. Your 20th century clients are dying off anyway – literally.

21st century communications means closed cloud, opt-in networks. Sound way too fancy for your clients? How many clients don’t bank electronically? How many don’t have Amazon accounts? These are well accepted closed cloud, opt-in networks. If your clients use Facebook to post dancing cat pictures (I’m not judging), they’ll use your closed network. Maybe I am judging.

So just what is a closed cloud, opt-in network for CPAs and accountants? I call them portals plus. Portals alone are so 2010, like Justin Bieber (I’m definitely judging now).

A closed cloud, opt-in network combines a portal with client communications and project management. It automates many routine client communications like reminders to answer questions and approve draft returns.

Meetings, phone calls, and e-mail aren’t going away. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses. The key to communicating effectively with clients is matching the right method to the situation.

Thanks for reading!

Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA


About the Author:

Frank Stitely, Stitely & Karstetter, CPAs, is a Certified Public Accountant with 26 years tax experience and Certified Valuation analyst with 12 years experience in business valuation. He serves small businesses and individuals in the areas of taxation, business valuation, financial reporting and software support services. He is partner of Clarity Practice Management, a workflow and practice management consulting firm for tax and accounting practices.

Join us on Thursday, May 19th at 2:00pm to hear Frank's full presentation during the NSA ConnectED Webinar: Client Communications in the 21st Century- What Works? 

Register today!

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