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Client Relationships

Email Is a Second-Class Form of Communication

By Michael Baker

Email may be good for maintaining a relationship, but it is not good for building one.

Both email and texting are fast, convenient and essentially allow nonstop 24/7 communication. The downside is they are easily misinterpreted — and emails have become so numerous many go unread or wind up as junk.

When you have face-to-face contact, or even talk by phone, the conversation naturally strays into other areas, and you get to know someone as a person. Clients expect a professional to be technically competent, but they also want to work with someone they like and trust. Using the right mode of communication for the given circumstance will help you build and maintain strong relationships and stand out from the crowd.

Six Communication Tips That Will Help You Build Relationships

Sixty-five percent of communication is nonverbal — body language and tone of voice. Talking face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) allows you to communicate, interpret the response and adjust accordingly. You have to spend time with someone to develop a relationship — electronic communication via email or texting does not count.

1. Don’t assume. Never take for granted that a client knows, understands or has even read your email or text. Even if they did, getting a verbal confirmation from them or explaining to them the purpose of your message a second time never hurts. Vampires like the dark — clients do not.

2. Team up two types of communication. It’s great to be able to email a question or list of items needed to complete a project. If the first attempt doesn’t yield a response, try a different avenue — pick up the phone. Better yet, follow up the first email immediately with a phone call and explain exactly what you need. Repeatedly emailing when there was no response the first time makes you seem like the foreign prince who wants your bank account information so he can wire money.

3. It’s good to see your face. I cannot count the number of times I’ve visited with someone and walked away with more work — never had it happen via email or text. If you have, I’d sure like to hear about it.

4. You don’t always need a business reason. Make it a habit to periodically drop in on clients (also prospects or referral sources) or at least call and ask how they’re doing. I’ve never been turned away. “I was thinking about you yesterday and wanted to find out how ________ is going.” Show people you genuinely care about them and their business.

5. Old fashioned but good. Buy note cards and send a personal note to thank, congratulate, or to show appreciation for taking you to the big game. I’ve never found anyone who does not appreciate a handwritten note.

6.  Don’t get stuck. Finally, if an issue is sticky, volatile or difficult to explain, stay away from electronic messaging (or even a written response). Deliver the news or explain it in person — the phone is a distant second choice. A quick email message may be convenient for you, but you’ll be stuck with it forever. And that might not be good.

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Michael Baker

Michael Baker is Managing Partner at Dent Moses, a national accounting consultancy based in Birmingham, Alabama. A CPA and Certified Financial Planner, Michael’s practice is concentrated in the area of taxation and general business consulting. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Alabama Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Financial Planning Association. Additionally, he serves as Chairman of the UAB Accounting Advisory Board and is involved with Samford University’s Brock School of Business.

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