Accountants have always suffered from a poor image. They have traditionally been predicted as dull, aloof and impersonal, and people assume they work on their own without much interference from others.
They are typically right brained, methodical people who like details and numbers more than words, but having the ability to communicate well is critical for their role. Accountants are one of the most important people in any business and can make it successful and profitable.
New cloud accounting software is making an accountant’s job more efficient as aspects of their roles are being made far easier. Business owners can access financial information such as payroll, budgets and management reports at any time on any device.
Accountants will have more time to become key advisors to their clients and to offer in-depth and appropriate financial expertise, which will improve their overall client service.
However, the one skill accountants are known for not having, is identical to the one that is holding them back from capitalising on the opportunity in front of them: communication skills.
Why Communication Counts
More than ever before, financial officers are looking for accountants who have polished ‘communication and interpersonal skills.’ Research by international recruitment company Robert Half say this should not be underestimated.
When surveyed, 1,400 financial managers rated these two skills more highly than ‘technical competence’. More than 50% said they would employ a candidate with fewer technical skills if they had stronger softer skills.
While this new cloud based software means accountants have more time to interact with clients, many don’t know how to embrace this as they have never been people-orientated.
This is what we recommend to accountants to help them communicate more effectively:
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.
When people are feeling uncomfortable communicating, it’s very common for them to only want to talk about topics which are familiar. So, it’s unwise for an accountant to go into a meeting and immediately start talking about the latest accounts because he is confident on this subject.
This does not build rapport, so think about what you are saying to them so you can build a level of trust.
Keep Communication Clear
Clarity counts. Jargon and technical knowledge will only confuse clients. It’s important for accountants to keep communication simple and clear so that everyone is working towards the same goal.
Never forget the power of a face to face conversation. It’s a way of developing a real understanding of their issues and a client will be more prepared to open-up.
Meeting with clients in person rather than through Skype or Zoom is always more effective (where possible).
The most important way to ensure good relationships with clients is by being empathetic. It is probably the best top ’soft skill’ that accountants require. Empathy means you can understand, and identify with another person’s experiences and emotions so you are able to deal with them effectively whatever the situation.
Greater empathy means you tend to be more helpful and understanding. Accountants can become more empathetic by asking questions with a strong intention to understand their clients and what they want.
Perfect Your People Skills
Friends and colleagues can help you to improve these ‘soft skills’. Ask them to let you know of any areas of weakness you have either at work or in social situations. By identifying you can improve and turn them around.
Be aware of any unusual or irritable mannerisms and work to correct these, many exist through being nervous.
Engage in Active Listening
Accountants need to reassure their clients that they completely 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.
Listen carefully to any feedback and look at a client’s expression as they speak.
Offering suggestions and solutions to problems indicates that you have been concentrating on what they have been saying. Even if it’s not something you yourself can fix, offering a solution to a client’s problem not only shows you were listening to what they were saying, but it also demonstrates that you are there to help.
Keep Clients Informed
Clients deserve to be told about matters which are relevant to their financial well-being and will be beneficial. Offer advice on how to improve returns and reduce expenses.
Talking about ways to maximise their financial goals are all important discussion topics and accountants have and will be warmly welcomed.
Accountants have more data than ever before because of the rise in software accounting and it’s important to share this with clients to predict possible future outcomes.
Forge Better Client Relationships
Essentially, 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. The advancements in technology mean communication skills will become more important than ever before.
About The Author
Mike Irving founded Advanced Business Abilities to help business owners gain access to the skills, abilities and tools that will allow them to achieve their desired results. He’s brought together a world-class research team to ensure those tools are available.