Being available and diligent for your clients is a winning strategy
“My CPA won’t answer me!” This is the hue and cry of the many clients who complain about not being able to reach their CPA to the Office of the syndic. Given that section 50 of the Code of ethics of CPAs states that a member is required to display reasonable availability and diligence toward their clients, it’s best to take the necessary steps to prevent such complaints and even improve our client relationships overall.
1. You’re overwhelmed and can no longer respond to your clients in a timely manner, or even at all.
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. In this situation, you would certainly be concerned if the CPA you do business with were to dodge or not return your calls.
Notify your clients that you are in a peak period. Consider including a special message in your voicemail greeting and activating an automatic reply in your email settings to inform clients of an unusually high workload.
Clear your voicemail regularly. Some voicemail systems have very limited capacity. Clear your voicemail regularly and take note of any messages you can’t answer immediately. One of the most frustrating situations for a client is being unable to leave you a message when you’re unreachable.
Take the time to review your workload. Certain circumstances may limit your availability. So take the time to assess your clients’ needs and make sure you’re able to carry out all your current engagements. If you have too much on your plate, have a designated person contact your existing clients in short order to notify them of the timelines and direct new clients to another CPA until you can handle your normal workload.
2. Your client is a slow payer or is harassing you.
Choose your clients carefully. Take the time to meet potential clients face to face and interact with them. Identify their needs and expectations. Starting a client relationship based on trust and open communication is often a good way to avoid misunderstandings. If you don’t mesh well with a prospective client and already foresee issues, tactfully suggest that they seek another CPA who will be better able to meet their expectations.
Set your boundaries. Right from the outset of a new client relationship, set your boundaries to adjust their expectations of your availability and avoid misunderstandings. For example, if you’d rather not be contacted at all hours, inform your clients of your business hours and tell them right away that you will not respond to text messages and that your cell number is for emergencies only.
Don’t dodge client attempts to contact you. This strategy may land you in hot water, as an unanswered client is likely to complain about you to the Office of the syndic. Given the risk of violating section 50 of the Code of ethics of CPAs, a problematic client relationship is no reason to break off communications with the client. Instead, write to your client to inform them of what you intend to accomplish by the end of your engagement, then deliver what you promised. You will still have the option to terminate the relationship afterward.
End problematic client relationships appropriately. Even if a client gives you considerable grief, wastes your time or has astronomical arrears, you can’t simply ignore or stop answering them. Call them and explain the limits of what you were engaged to do. Then, meet the terms of your engagement as agreed.
Once the engagement is completed, notify the client immediately that you are terminating your professional relationship and that you will accept no further engagements from them by means of a written notice of withdrawal, as required under section 53 of the Code of ethics of CPAs. This will avoid misunderstandings, particularly for engagements that occur each year, such as tax returns. It makes it clear to the client that they need to look for another CPA and gives them ample time to do so. If notice of your withdrawal is not clearly served, you may be forced to accept the engagement the following year regardless.
3. You switch offices or move.
To avoid unnecessary panic among your clients, give them your new contact information in advance, making sure to activate an automated email message, mention the change in your voicemail greeting and give them a few reminders.
4. You become seriously ill or require a prolonged absence.
Adopt preventive measures to deal with such circumstances.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Everyone can experience difficult times and, in such cases, being able to count on professionals who can help you is essential. If you have difficulty finding competent resources, access the Order’s CPA Assistance Program. The Order is committed to its members’ health, and its staff is understanding when CPAs are affected by difficult circumstances.
Designate a replacement CPA for unexpected or prolonged absences. As a CPA, and particularly if you are a sole practitioner, you are responsible for making the necessary arrangements for your clients to have a contact person in the event of your unexpected and prolonged absence. The best solution is to enter into an agreement with another CPA to serve as your replacement in emergency situations. Without having to take over your client base, this person will at least be able to notify your clients so they can make informed decisions about their next steps. Your replacement will also be able to inform the Order of your situation and serve as provisional custodian of your records, as stipulated in section 27 of the Regulation respecting the cessation of practice (in French only). This can be a win-win arrangement if it is reciprocal and you agree to be the other CPA’s replacement.
If you are dealing with a client’s representative, such as a broker, a banker or even another CPA, keep in mind that you have the same duty of availability and diligence to that person as to the client themself. Accordingly, you are required to quickly respond to their requests and collaborate with them, provided you have obtained your client’s permission to do so.