Can You Leave Yourself Behind When Working With Clients?

Gina Deveney
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There's no doubt about it: Accountants love numbers. However, accountants need to apply financial numbers to the people they serve. Working with clients goes beyond adding value, providing excellent customer service and being there when you're needed. You must learn to leave yourself behind and empathize with your customers to provide the right advice for them and make the correct choices for your firm.

Why Empathy?

Working with clients includes getting inside their financial numbers, but do you know what drives them to succeed? Do you know why your customers do what they do? You must leave yourself behind, shed your biases and preconceived notions, and put yourself in the mind of your clients. When you look at someone who asks you if investing in a $1 million European condo is a good idea when the individual can clearly afford it, delve into the reasons why this high-paying client wants to make the purchase in the first place.

Finding out these reasons takes empathy, or feeling what the client feels. If learning to empathize with customers seems easier in theory than it is in practice, it's probably because it's not your forte. In a survey conducted by Robert Half Finance and Accounting in 2015, 41 percent of accountants said problem-solving a client's financial challenges is the aspect of accounting that brings the most job satisfaction. Despite empathy being a low-priority skill, you can learn to empathize when working with clients just like when you learned your exceptional number crunching proficiency.

Working Toward Empathy

You might think that working with clients means advising them to do what you would do if you were in the exact same financial position. However, the first step to empathizing with another person is recognizing that the client is not you. What motivates your client to spend money, save money or change his financial situation is different from what motivates you when faced with the same scenarios. You might think a $1 million condo in Europe is a waste of resources, but your client might feel like splurging after going through a rough patch in life.

Asking Questions

The way to get inside someone's thoughts and feelings is to ask open-ended questions. When working with clients, you ask them all sorts of financial questions regarding debts, income, revenue and future financial goals. Creating empathy means asking about the emotional reasons behind financial decisions without asking about specific feelings in the present moment.

Some examples of these questions include:

?• How would you feel if you achieved all of your financial goals? How would you feel if you failed to achieve them?
?• What do you want to do with your life?
?• When you visualize your goals for the future, does anything concern or scare you?
?• What benefits do you see with your money?
?• What do you hope to accomplish with your money?

The answers to these questions provide insights into your clients. Once you have these answers, you can better serve your customers.

Working with clients means providing sound tips for spending money, but it also involves getting inside their heads. Recognizing your limited view and then asking questions makes you a better accountant, and better accountants have loyal customers for life.

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