As a bookkeeper, you know too well that there is no getting around dealing with difficult clients. It is unfortunately a part of the gig. Whether it’s a client who constantly demands more than what was initially agreed upon or one who is consistently unresponsive, how you manage these relationships can have a critical impact on your client retention and the overall success of your business. This blog post explores practical strategies to help bookkeepers and accountants successfully navigate dealing with clients in a way that fosters a positive working relationship.
Clear Communication from the Start:
The foundation of any successful client relationship is clear communication. Setting clear and consistent expectations early on in the relationship process can help prevent any future confusion that can lead to dissatisfaction. Clearly define the scope of the services you will be providing the client, the timeline of the completion, the requirements on their end, any fees, and the terms of your agreement. Confirm that your client fully understands what is included in your services and that if they need anything that falls outside the scope, they can expect additional fees or an extension in the timeline. This clear communication will allow you to avoid any uncomfortable conversations or conflicts down the line.
Difficult clients often push boundaries, whether this is intentional or unintentional. It is important to establish boundaries from the beginning of the relationship. Clearly communicate your working hours, response times, and the procedures for submitting documents or information. This will help you to manage their sometimes unreasonable expectations and prevent you from setting an unrealistic precedent or expectation that will affect your workload.
Stay Professional and Calm:
Sometimes even with clear communication and boundaries, disagreements or tense conversations may arise. It is essential to always remain professional and composed when dealing with a difficult client. Avoid emotional reactions in challenging situations, and instead, respond with a calm and collected demeanor. This not only helps diffuse tension but also presents you as a reliable and level-headed professional.
Detailed documentation is your best friend when dealing with difficult clients. Keep detailed records of all communications, agreements, and transactions. One effective way to do this is to send a meeting recap email, detailing the conversation and any requests or next steps, after any conversation that is had in person, or in a phone or video call. It is also important to request written approval for any task that is outside of the original agreed-upon scope. This not only protects you in case of a dispute but also provides a clear reference point for both parties. Having a well-documented and timestamped history of the client’s requests and your responses can help resolve conflicts more efficiently.
Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems:
Proactivity is the key to building strong relationships. When issues arise, don’t just present the problem to the client; provide potential solutions. This approach softens the blow of bad news, demonstrates your commitment to finding resolutions, and can turn a difficult situation into an opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills.
Maintaining regular communication allows you to keep a gauge on how they are feeling towards you and your service. Make sure to follow up with your clients on a weekly basis with a progress update or a check-in on any pending issues or missing information. These regular check-ins allow you to address any concerns or issues before they escalate. It also helps build a stronger rapport, making it easier to navigate challenges together.
Know When to Walk Away:
While conflict resolution should always be the primary goal, sometimes it is important to realize that a specific client relationship may be more trouble than it’s worth. If your client consistently disregards agreements, is disrespectful, or creates an unmanageable workload, consider whether it’s in your best interest to continue the relationship. Sometimes, parting ways is the best solution for both parties.
How you deal with difficult clients as a bookkeeper, can make the biggest difference in your overall success as a bookkeeper. Patience, communication, proactivity, and clear boundaries are your best tools to overcome every difficult situation that can arise when working with clients