Top tips to reduce client communication complaints
Lynne Beattie of ICAS provides advice to help you avoid being on the wrong end of an investigation for a failure to respond.
A common feature of complaints received by the ICAS Investigations Team is the claim that a Member has failed to respond to their client or a fellow accountant in a timely and courteous manner.
The aim of this article is to outline simple steps that can be taken to ensure clients are satisfied with the level of communication they receive from their accountant, and also to emphasise the risks of failing to communicate with ICAS, or refusing to co-operate with the investigation of a complaint.
We are confident that if all our Members take note of the points highlighted; communication-related complaints received at ICAS will fall significantly.
Establish realistic service expectations
Define service parameters at the outset of the engagement and eliminate any expectation gaps at the beginning of your client relationship. Making sure you’re all on the same page is a good way of preventing issues before they even begin.
Co-operate with other accountants
Issues often arise when a client decides to change accountant. Whilst we appreciate that it may be frustrating that the client has decided to terminate your relationship; this doesn’t mean that communications from a fellow accountant should be ignored. All of our Members need to remember that the Code of Ethics requires an outgoing accountant to co-operate with the incoming accountant.
Be clear about right of lien
It is important to note that if you intend to exercise a right of lien over client records, this should be explained clearly to the client or the new accountant at the earliest opportunity to avoid matters escalating. If you have any doubts over rights of lien, please consult our Right of Lien Helpsheet.
How to respond to challenging clients
We sometimes have to deal with perplexing clients who never appear to be satisfied with the level of communication they receive. Be assured that we know it is not realistic to expect you to answer emails sent in the middle of the night or to pick up every call you may receive from a particularly demanding client. In these circumstances, we would expect you to provide these clients with a reasonable level of response. If you genuinely consider that you can’t provide a detailed response immediately, consider issuing a holding response, and be sure to give the client a realistic understanding of when their query will be addressed in full.
Establish a second point of contact
It is a good idea to have a think about who the client can speak to in your office in your absence. It can be very useful to give clients contact details for other members of staff who can assist them with their affairs. If even their query can’t be answered, a client is likely to be happier if there’s someone to speak to in your office.
Co-operate with our team
In a small number of cases we find that Members have not co-operated with the Investigations Team and have ignored the Case Officer’s correspondence when a complaint has been made. By failing to co-operate with a member of the Investigations Team, Members are in breach of the ICAS Investigation Regulations and could be liable to disciplinary action. In some cases Members have been excluded from membership for their failures to respond.
Please don’t stick your head in the sand, as the complaint won’t go away without your input and assistance.
Respond in good time
Please ensure that if you do receive a complaint from the Investigations Team at ICAS, you respond within the stipulated timescales and assist the Case Officer as much as you can. This will demonstrate your willingness to co-operate with the investigation.
We believe that by drawing your attention to the simple steps outlined above, the possibility of you becoming subject to an ICAS investigation or being subject to a disciplinary action will be significantly reduced
The Investigations Team at ICAS provides assistance to Members and also offers ethical advice. If you are experiencing any communication problems or have any concerns, please contact the team for advice at the earliest opportunity on 0131 347 0271.