This week’s tip, I am sad to say, is a real-world scenario that happened to me, and is acted out thousands of times a day all over the country. (Perhaps even the world.)
I had a very real, and very disappointing client experience with a local solicitor’s firm, and it reminded me that sadly there are still hundreds if not thousands of accountants who are working in this way.
It may be a solicitor’s firm, but it’s still in the professional services arena – and these principles absolutely apply to you.
If even one of these items I list today applies to your accountancy firm, I can guarantee you that at least one, and probably many, of your clients are not happy about it.
What is even more likely is that you have no idea – because they either don’t tell you, or they told someone in your firm and that feedback was not passed on to you.
Granted, there will always be a few clients who want to deal with you in a very “old school” style, but for most of the firms we’re working with, those aren’t the clients you want. For those of you who want your accountancy firm to grow as the world gets more online, and to get the best and most modern of clients, I beg you not to do business this way.
I’ll not name and shame here – but if the last few conversations I’ve had are any indication, you may think I’m talking about a solicitors’ firm you know. And that’s just sad.
So here we go. A list of ways to lose clients (or potential clients) and influence nobody. (Reminder: this is not a goal list if you want to grow!)
1. Make immediate contact and connect quickly with prospects. After this initial enthusiasm, ignore them as much as possible and make them do all the work.
I was drawn in like a moth to a flame. As soon as I showed a vague interest, the estate agency I was dealing with connected me to their recommended solicitor. This person sent me a very helpful email and was willing and eager to talk with me. ….Or so it seemed.
I realise now that the initial connection was clearly automated, and I highly doubt that the person who “sent” it even knew it was going.
Lesson: Automation is good – it can get you leads. But if you do not reply, or follow up, or be a real human being when the leads make contact, it’s worse than if you never got the lead at all.
2. Do not reply to emails
So far in my client “experience”, I have never yet received a reply to my emails, or an initiated email of any kind from these solicitors – other than the automated one noted above. That ought to have been a warning to me. People who work online and in the cloud use email – and often they respond fairly quickly.
Lesson: You don’t have to answer with a full reply. Often a simple “Got your email – we will have a look!” is enough to give comfort and reassurance. Don’t do this too often, but from time to time it is a help to communication.
3. Make sure you have someone very grumpy and bored to answer the phone.
When I rang the first time, an indicator of the service I would receive could have been the less-than-enthusiastic response of the girl answering the phone. It wasn’t as though she hated her job, but she was quite simply bored to tears by it. I felt as though my questions were foolish, she was tired of answering them, and she wished she were anywhere else but there.
Lesson: The importance of a friendly voice backed up by a helpful attitude cannot be underestimated. If you have a receptionist who has this attitude and better yet knows the firm and your clients, increase their salary quickly so you don’t lose them. (Or give other bonuses like remote working or flexible schedules.)
4. Do not provide a secure login or access portal to share sensitive data.
When I had to send in information (such as passport pages and bank statements), I was advised to email them or send them in the post. Sending them in the post was laughable (it would take 2-3 days plus a good hour of my time , since I rarely send things in the post), so I took the responsibility on myself to password protect and encrypt what I was sending by email.
Naturally, the firm followed item 2 like clockwork, and no one confirmed that they received my information.
Lesson: A secure portal helps your clients feel safe about the important data they have with you. This improves their trust and reliability in you, and causes them to stay with you longer.
5. Ensure that your staff, wherever possible, are rude and pass responsibility on to others.
At this point it would be good for me to say that one of the reasons I was so horrified by this terrible service is that I’ve become used to people who care. Who are pleasant and friendly and feel genuinely badly for you if things go wrong.
So this means that when I come into contact with an entire office full of people who are either directly rude, or who say they’re sorry but don’t mean it, it’s even more of a shock.
Lesson: Hire nice people. End of lesson.
6. Never return phone calls. At all. No matter how many messages you receive (or don’t receive).
To this day I can safely say I have not had one phone call returned. I finally got frustrated enough to tell one of the (many) people I spoke to, who offered to leave my name and number (again), that I had phoned three times in four days and no one had replied yet, so why should I bother leaving my details?
The person I spoke to followed point 5 – passed responsibility and was very unhelpful.
Lesson: At least respond – whether it’s by phone, email, text, social media – anything. At least ensure that your client’s query has been recognised in some way.
Please know that I, like the rest of the human race, get this wrong myself from time to time. But if it’s a habit for you and your team to regularly be missing or not returning calls, it’s time to address it.
7. Do business primarily by letter. Typed and mailed letters, in the post.
I actually laughed aloud when I got a written letter, in the post, with some information and asking me to phone them at my convenience.
The letter arrived on Saturday morning.
My convenience would have been to receive a phone call on Thursday (the date of the letter), so I could address it then.
Naturally, I phoned up on Monday and the team followed points 3, 5, and 6, so I got even more frustrated.
I finally asked why they sent a letter in the post instead of emailing me, and they said (and I quote), ‘That’s how we do business here, but if you want us to contact you by email we can.” Really? What about point 2, Mr Phone Answerer??
8. Work from 9.00am to 5.00pm sharp. Never answer the phones outside these times, and do not provide a mobile or any other way to get in touch.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought to ring them, and it was 8am or 6pm or 8pm or, of course, lunchtime. See point 9.
9. Shut down the entire office for an hour every day for lunch. For everyone. Leave a recorded message explaining that people will just have to remember to phone back.
You’d think nothing would shock me anymore – but the entire office shuts down and is completely uncontactable? There’s not one single person who takes their lunch at 12pm, and can answer the phones at 1pm?
Seeing as they’re following point 5 (be rude and unhelpful), I doubt their team gathers together for a fun team lunch every day. I think this is an opportunity to avoid phone calls (see point 6).
Lesson: If you have an office number, make sure it’s answered all day. Have some kind of an out-of-hours option if at all possible – a mobile, an email address, a willingness to reply by text.
10. Be very vague about how much the fees will be. Reel them in by indicating the fees will be low, and then add loads of additional fees on top that were not discussed.
I don’t even want to think about what my fees will be. The low fee I got quoted seems laughable now, because they’re probably charging me for every time I leave a message that is not returned. It worried me slightly when they didn’t give much information at the start – and I’m amazed I went ahead and did business with them.
Lesson: Be very clear about what the fees will be, what they’re for, and what the extras are. Confirm it with an email.
11. Make sure that clients speak to a different person on your staff every time they contact your office.
This is extremely important if you wish to pass off clients and prevent them from getting any help. This is a true and faithful account of a phone call I had with this office this week:
“Hi, can I speak to Yvonne?”
“Did you say Chavonne?”
“I’m sorry, there’s no one named Chavonne here.”
“But I want to speak to Yvonne. With a Y. Yvonne.”
“I think you have the wrong number.”
“Is this [name of firm]?”
“And there’s no Yvonne there?”
“Okay, I don’t even care who it is. This is Karen Reyburn and I’m phoning about [property name]. Can you put me in touch with the right person?”
“There’s no Chavonne here.”
“No, I want Yvonne!!!”
“I can’t hear you very well – this is a bad line.”
The hilarious part is, the girl’s name WAS Chavonne. I have also spoken to a Sandra Who Went On Holiday Two Days After Setting Things Up, The Guy Who Can’t Hear, the Rude Receptionist, and several other people. I have not, however, ever spoken with the solicitor whose name was on the original email (see point 1, and 12).
Lesson: Either give people one point of contact, or make sure your team has a way to be up to speed very quickly no matter what client gets in touch.
12. You are far too busy and important to ever reply to emails, pick up the phone, or take calls. Never, ever do it. Always delegate this to your staff.
As mentioned, I’m far too unimportant for the solicitor whose name was on the original email to ever speak to me. I’ve tried, but I keep getting passed around to Sandra and Yvonne and Chavonne and everyone else. Maybe Louise the solicitor doesn’t actually exist.
Lesson: Being uncontactable does not make you more important. It makes you less personable. I have sent emails to very important people such as Peter Shankman, Seth Godin, and Simon Sinek – and they replied to me. Personally. Within a few minutes, some of them. Don’t flatter yourself with your own importance. Be a real person – it’s much better for business, and it’s just the right thing to do.
13. Create strategic partnerships with other big companies who do business like you do, so they can send you loads of business which you can subsequently destroy in this manner, one at a time.
I’m guessing this is what the solicitors’ firm has done in connecting with an estate agency. They get loads of referrals, so they have too much business, so no one gets responded to, but it doesn’t matter because they have a steady stream of poor lost people like myself, who wish desperately that they had gone with someone else. Anyone else.
Quite frankly just by typing this all out I’m wondering if I can somehow get out of working with these solicitors. Why did I ever sign the terms of business, I wonder?? If you know an amazing solicitor in Scotland who can help me, feel free to send them on!
Conclusion: I hope it’s obvious, but please don’t do these. Any of them. If even one of them applies to you or your accountancy firm, make some fast decisions about how to address them.
And take heart. Because if you’ve turned from these 13 despicable practices, you’re winning. One returned phone call at a time.