I personally believe that 95% of the problems we face day-to-day can be traced back to an issue involving communication. While I think it’s true of life in general, this definitely applies to the difficulties we all face, either constantly or just occasionally, with our clients.
Despite all the nifty technology we have to streamline communication (cell phones, instant messaging, email, etc.), the humans seem to be the source of the problems. Sometimes it’s because of choosing inappropriate methods of communication. An example of that is when an email is used instead of picking up the phone, when a time-sensitive issue crops up. Have you ever had that happen? Yeah, me too.
Other times the problem stems from more emotionally-based causes. For example, a solo bookkeeper is not quite sure how to properly book an unusual transaction, but don’t want to appear incompetent. What does she do? “Fake it” instead of reaching out to the client’s accountant for advice, or even an online peer forum for help. We’ve all had to clean up the messes created by bookkeepers who’ve had this communication problem.
So if my theory is correct and communication is at the root of a large proportion of the sticking points or downright breakdowns we have working with our clients, what’s the solution? It’s not a simple fix we can handle on our own, is it? After all, communication always involves more than one person!
Solving communication problems therefore, especially for introverts, might seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. You see, I also believe that a major source of solutions to problems in business, including a bookkeeping practice, is the development and execution of top-down systems. As introverts, we’re usually pretty good at executing systems. That’s typically far less intimidating, since it’s task focused. So let’s leverage that strength and apply it to improving communication with our clients!
A Case For Using a Documented Workflow
How you get your clients’ work done month in and month out is your workflow. It can include the tools you use, the tasks your complete, and in what order. It’s a repeatable process that, when defined and then refined, should produce consistent results. That, in turn, is the mother of standardization, efficiency and scalability in your business.
A workflow exists whether you document it or not. But when moving toward improving your business efficiency (and subsequently your profitability), a workflow needs to be documented, and then tweaked or even redesigned to get optimum results for all concerned.
A very basic workflow for monthly reconciliation of bank accounts might look like this:
Having a documented workflow is extremely helpful for identifying and solving problems quickly. It makes it possible to immediately identify, without emotion, where the process gets stuck. Then, like a mechanic, we make small adjustments until the process runs smoothly.
The same is true for communication issues. Using a similar method for documenting and then revising the ways we communicate with clients can result in easier, more efficient, and more profitable client relationships and loyalty.
Document Your Client Communication Workflow
So how do we apply workflow to client communication? It starts the same way. Document what you’re doing now so you can see it. If it is inconsistent, include that as well, since workflow doesn’t work too well where there is inconsistency. So those spots will identify where the sticky points probably are, and their resolution can then be approached from a mechanical mindset, instead of an emotional one.
An example of a client communication workflow that reveals exactly where the flow gets stuck might look like this:
By visually seeing the steps and thought processes involved, it can become much easier to know exactly how to resolve problems simply and proactively.
An important point to remember when documenting workflow of any kind is to keep it simple. Also remember that it’s dynamic and can continue to change until you find the right fit and level of detail needed. Zoom out to the big picture first. Then drill down and document the next layer of detail, if needed, in any one area until you build a system that works smoothly.
Working Your Workflow
The final part of using a workflow to improve communications is to implement it and use it as a guide for consistency. Workflow processes without execution are useless. It’s when we bring them to life that the magic happens!
If using a new workflow seems challenging, simply break down the function you’re hesitant to implement into individual tasks or actions. Chunk it down to small, bite-sized steps. That way, when the emotion or fear that usually squelches communication crops up, we can take just one small step at a time to progress through the workflow. Using deadlines and timers are a great way to keep things moving too.
For example. Does your workflow say that you should pick up the phone and call your client to answer a time-sensitive question? Set an appointment for when you’ll do it, even using an alarm. The extra structure can give you that extra push to get it done until it becomes more comfortable (and successful). And most importantly, you’ll learn to be more proactive, professional and ultimately valuable for win-win results. You’ll know how to conquer the communication issues that cripple most bookkeeping businesses.
Does the idea of using workflows to solve problems in your bookkeeping practice and improving efficiency and profitability intrigue you? Then join me on the new webinar I’m hosting this week on “Streamlined Workflow & Best Practices for Virtual Bookkeepers.” In this free, live training we’ll dig into the core workflow virtual bookkeepers can use to build an entire cloud-based system. One size does not fit all, but if you have the basic framework down right, you can build a highly efficient and scalable bookkeeping business. We’ll even touch upon how you can automate some of the client communications to solve some problems before they ever begin!
Learn more and Register Here
Have you tried documenting how you’re communicating with clients? What ways have you found to resolve issues and smooth out the process for win-win results?