How to improve empathy skills for accountants

October 27, 2022

As more and more back-office jobs become automated, accounting teams are finding it harder to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Because a fast and reliable service is easier than ever to achieve using accounting tools like Sage and Quickbooks, accountants need to come up with new strategies to foster long-term relationships with their clients. 

Adding more value in the front of the office, cultivating your teams' client-facing abilities, and building trust are all great tactics to win over and retain clients. In essence, if your team can empathise with your customer's needs, they are better placed to offer accounting recommendations that can help their client's businesses thrive. So it really is worth looking into how to improve empathy skills within your firm. 

In this post, find out how the next generation of accountants contributes more value to their brand by engaging in empathetic communication. We'll also offer tips on how accountants can pay attention to their customers' issues and provide the exact service level clients need to maximise their profitability metrics.

‘Soften’ your client communication

Business owners are busy people. Oftentimes keeping up with correspondence from their accounts team is pushed to the bottom of a boss' to-do list. Subsequently, communication between the two parties can sometimes become strained, as clients feel like their accountants are chasing them for information. Likewise, accounts teams can get frustrated with their clients' lack of communication and not giving them the data they need to do their job promptly.  

To aid clients who may be struggling, for instance, to hand in their receipts and bills on time, ACCA Global recommends building an 'empathy bridge.' This style of communication is designed to foster friction-free relationships and can be broken down into the following characteristics (under the acronym 'SOFTEN'): 

  • Smile 
  • Open communication channels 
  • Find shared interests 
  • Teach clients about your professional capabilities
  • Eye contact 
  • Nod and use other positive body language signals

In addition to fostering positive interpersonal communications, learn as much as possible about your client's pain points in business. What issues are keeping them up at night? For example, are they worried about losing receipts and being unable to claim VAT? 

If this is the case, you may be able to guide them toward services like mobile receipt scanning tools. As a result of you building an empathy bridge and understanding your client's needs better, you can make communication easier, lift some of their burden as a business owner, and build up your customer satisfaction scores.

Demonstrate empathetic leadership

Empathy should also be a feature of your management style within your accounting firm. Empathetic leadership skills include active listening (i.e., the ability to read non-verbal and verbal cues from employees), a willingness to go above and beyond for other people, and being open to gathering and addressing employee feedback. 

Company leaders can foster compassionate leadership without incurring any additional costs or resourcing requirements. Initiatives like sending a simple internal survey on your employees' motivation levels can help organisations start the process of building an engaged workforce. When employees feel heard and valued, they are more likely to give you their best work. Furthermore, they can help management teams by bringing new ideas that may improve their approach to leadership, employee retention strategies, and more.

Take a consultative approach

Consultancy is seen as a natural progression for a growing accountancy firm. But, many of your clients may have misconceptions about what consulting services can ultimately deliver. For instance, they may see consultants as taking on a short-term advisory role to help their company reach an ambitious, predetermined goal, such as expanding abroad. Therefore, they may not see the value in regularly approaching their accountant to seek help in short-term financial goals such as lowering costs in one business area. 

Taking more of an empathetic approach to consultancy can ensure your clients feel confident in approaching you for additional accounting advisory services. For example, adopting a financial mentorship relationship with your clients rather than a 'big picture' advisory role will enable your company to build more trust with your clients. 

Essentially, becoming more of a 'mentor' involves converting your regular reporting into easy-to-digest documents and answering any questions your clients may have about the results. It's helpful for accountants not to assume that business owners know everything about their finances and offer tips and advice where needed to help them improve their understanding. 

Furthermore, it is empathetic to regularly check in with your clients to find out where they hope to be in the near future. Have their plans changed recently for any reason? Where can you help them with your unique skills to build them up in the right direction? Good consultancy is about communication, so ensure you are always on hand to deliver timely and helpful advice to your clients.

Research wider industry and economic news

The pandemic put a lot of pressure on business leaders and placed them in unprecedented situations where they may have been unsure whether their businesses would survive all of the upheavals. Even now, when most pandemic restrictions are lifted, many accounting clients will be reading up on the news and planning how things like power or supply chain shortages may affect them. 

And while you may not have all the answers on weathering the ongoing economic crisis, accountants can research current issues and condense the information into actionable insights for their clients. For example, you can give them an early warning of any new tax regulations that may affect them, new technologies that can help with bookkeeping, etc. Being empathetic is about pre-empting actions that may affect your valued clients. Connect with like-minded people in your profession, learn from them, and then pass your teachings onto your clients through email newsletters, social media posts, podcasts, and so on.

Network with organisations like INAA to build the skills accountants need

Here at INAA, we bring together accounting companies that strive to provide top-quality professional services around a shared vision to personalise global business and make it more accessible to businesses of all sizes and types. 

Our cooperative network of global companies is dedicated to advancing the benefits of highly skilled accounting with every industry shift.

Join now to form effective business connections and build the skills accountants need to thrive in the modern workplace.