WHY DIALOGUE IS THE SECRET TO LONG-LASTING RELATIONSHIPS
By Rhys Madoc, CEO, UHY International
One of the signs that a relationship may be breaking down, is when dialogue stops and as a consequence regular communication and engagement is disrupted.
Both personal and professional relationships are similar, in that mutual trust and understanding are crucial, and both are prone to leach away over time unless the parties involved actively work to maintain them.
In accountancy, for example, there is always a risk that a relationship may drift. At the start of a contract, dialogue is regular and frequent, as the scope of work is agreed, benchmarks are set and timelines negotiated. In this honeymoon period, regular communication is a priority for everyone concerned.
As the relationship matures, that urgency can fade. The work becomes routine. As long as the tasks remain the same and are carried out satisfactorily, it is easy to believe that nobody feels the need for that random, off-diary chat. In client relationships spontaneity can start to feel like an unnecessary use of valuable time.
At UHY, I believe our member firms work hard to resist this tendency towards drift – indeed, I frequently hear how our longstanding clients value their ongoing relationships with our member firm professionals. If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it is that nothing cements relationships like regular dialogue. During the pandemic, UHY member firms around the world reported a range of positive outcomes for clients from unprompted, off-diary contact.
Talk is cheap – and valuable
To be clear, these are not sales calls or scheduled quarterly meetings. They might involve nothing more than a quick call to ask how the client is coping, or an unprompted email pointing them to a new source of Covid-related advice. Clients are appreciative of this attention, and often initiate these contacts themselves, if only because they are grateful for the opportunity to talk to someone who listens and understands.
What the pandemic shows us is the obvious – but sometimes underappreciated – value of honest and spontaneous dialogue. To me, this is too important to let disappear with the pandemic. When provider and client talk regularly, freely and without the time and subject matter constraints of a scheduled meeting, good things invariably happen.
At the very least, you build mutual trust. Talking through current challenges together reconfirms your relevance. Clients get to better understand your business and the value of service and expertise at their disposal. You show that you understand their world, and can keep them abreast of developments that might impact or benefit their business.
Dialogue is never wasted
Dialogue is a two-way street, and these occasions give both parties the opportunity to listen. Developing keen listening skills is important. By listening, we may each discover opportunities to add more value to the relationship.
Dialogue is never wasted. Open, honest conversations encourage clients, for example, to tell you what they need (beyond the basic stipulations of your contract), what they really value in your relationship, and the best way you can deliver your services.
Our member firms in the UHY network strive to achieve this kind of partnership in every engagement, to be the kind of professional provider a client can confide in, turn to for advice, solicit a recommendation from and look to when they want to be challenged or inspired. Ambitious businesses have always benefited from professional service experts who offer ideas and insight as well as competent technical skills. In short, they want trusted advisors.
Both clients and advisors can make it easier for dialogue to flow. For example, swapping direct contact details, rather than generic ones. If you are located in the same city, it might mean meeting for a coffee every now and then. Or setting up a chat or instant message group, so either party can fire off a quick question by text when picking up the phone is not an option.
In my experience, clients also appreciate the sharing of relevant economic and industry news and the chance to discuss any implications for them specifically. And for accountants today, social media can be a great way to stay front and centre of your clients’ thoughts. Blogs, publications and newsletters all help.
Dialogue enables empathy and responsiveness to client needs. It provides a platform to offer value beyond tax or audit expertise. And it opens up the path to becoming a trusted advisor.