‘I hate accountants’ – common complaints and what you can do about them

A couple of months ago I decided to run a survey.

I wanted to know what people thought about accountants and I have to say I was a little bit shocked (but not massively surprised) by the results.

So I thought I’d write up some of the results in a way that will hopefully help people in practice avoid the sort of mistakes that cause people grief.

They never reply

This was a really interesting response and a common complaint.

Clients were complaining that their practice never got back to them. A simple matter of a lack of communication.

OK so we all get busy and we all have those clients who are a little bit needy but really?

The most surprising aspect of this was a number of complaints from people who said that they were looking for an accountant but their chosen practice never replied to their emails or calls!

Imagine all that time, effort and money spent on marketing and you don’t even respond to leads.

Two solutions here, first have a designated person who always fields calls from existing clients and make it a KPI that they have to be spoken to within x number of hours.

Second, for potential clients, invest some time in setting up a standardised contact procedure so that when someone mails or fills in your contact form they instantly go into a process that will email them back and get more information.

They cost too much

This was another common gripe although interestingly more than one person said that they didn’t really understand the value that was added and so couldn’t say whether it was expensive or not.

The problem here is that people don’t realise the bad things that could happen as a result of not bothering with a great accountant or of having a bad one.

The solution? Simple, communication once again.

Make sure you emphasise the tax you have saved people, the volume of work they have had, and the potential fines and penalties you have avoided.

More importantly though, if you have been providing business advice then highlight the value you have added to their company and what a bargain your fees have been.

They don’t speak my language

This is not confined to accountants, believe me!

This applies to any technical profession where there is the potential for jargon and complex concepts.

The solution is really more about the way that you communicate.

Some people are great with numbers, some not so. This means that you need to get to know your client and understand what level of detail they want, what terminology they are happy with and to an extent help to educate them a little where this is required.

They are arrogant

This is a difficult one and comes down to personal relationships and perception.

One man’s arrogant is another’s calm and confident.

A lot of the perception of arrogance comes from the fact that accountancy is a serious business and we have to act with a certain level of professionalism.

Most of the accountants I know aren’t arrogant at all, but then I would say that wouldn’t I given that I am a member of the profession myself?

The solution?

Don’t be afraid to get to know your clients. Have a chat about things other than numbers. The more you get to know them ( and they you) the less likely it is that a negative perception will arise.

One of the best accountants (and nicest guys) I ever knew often got described as arrogant.

However, his view was that he didn’t like to tell people about himself because he thought it sounded like bragging when actually it was just relationship building.

Don’t be afraid to tell people a little about yourself, it’s not a failure if you let people know you are a skydiver or like to paint watercolours.

They are slow

I was surprised to see that a lot of people didn’t like the speed with which their practice worked.

Now I’m going to seperate this out a little.

It is true to say that older, more traditional practices can be very slow in the way that they approach things.

But it was surprising that people complained about the speed of work with some of the more efficient practices.

It was almost as though they thought that the business of putting together a set of accounts or completing a tax comp was just a five-minute job.

Now I don’t want to sound arrogant here (see above) but this is often a matter of educating people as to what is involved in the work you are doing.

Letting your clients know that you will be doing the bookkeeping, producing the stats and going through a full quality control process helps people to understand why it takes so long and to an extent will also ameliorate the cost issue above.

It’s also helpful to have an FAQ section on your website and produce regular blogs that give people an insight into the life of a firm, especially around self-assessment time!

They won’t do what I want

This is a perennial problem that appears in pretty much every accountant’s forum that I have ever visited.

The client wants you to do something and for whatever reason, you can’t.

Maybe it would distort the true picture, maybe you just can’t achieve what they want, or maybe it is even downright illegal, but whatever the reason you need to be able to communicate this effectively.

I had a potential client come to me where they’d asked their current accountant to do something and he had just said “no”.

No explanation, no preamble, just “no”.

You can imagine how frustrated they were and yet when I explained that the thing they wanted to do was against VAT law they were perfectly happy.

It’s all about communication

The interesting thing for me was that the vast majority of problems that people had with their accountants were really just miscommunication.

I’ll be honest, this is where we as a profession do tend to let ourselves down a bit.

There is a simple solution though.

Invest in some training.

Often called ‘soft-skills’ or ’emotional intelligence’ the training is just a way of helping you to improve your listening and communication skills.

Sometimes the courses can be found for free with different organisations and sometimes you can find webinars, blogs and videos from coaches that will help.

That having been said, if you spend some money getting a trainer in to your practice for a day it will be money well spent because you’ll find that your conversion rate from lead to onboarding increases and your retention rate will be improved.

At the average rate for a good communication skills trainer you probably only need to retain a couple of clients to make it more than pay for itself.

And as a final piece of advice – distribute a newsletter.

You don’t have to write it, I can do that, all you need to do is to think up some interesting topics that will help your clients. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.

If you need help with marketing your practice then get in touch. I can give you a plan, write the content and help you analyse the results.

I admit that not everyone loves writing as much as me so if you’d like someone to take the pain away then why not drop me a line?