Not everybody likes us on Facebook: What happens when a client relationship goes wrong and how do you fix it?

Posted on: July 3rd, 2014 by Real Estate Accountants No Comments

Broken windowMany of our clients are business owners, whether real estate, technology, manufacturing, medical, or more. But the common thread is that we are all providing a customer service. And, yes, we all make mistakes in customer service. So what happens when a relationship goes wrong in our connected world? And, how do you fix it?

Social media is a great customer service tool to answer quick questions and share knowledge. But, what happens when a relationship turns sour? Sometimes, people go through difficult times, which can cause stressful times in a professional relationship as well. Other times, it just isn’t a good fit on either side, and you agree to part ways.

But, what do you do when someone threatens to post multiple bad reviews all over the web and in various online forums to receive even more refunds, for example?

We recently had this happen to us, and while it did make us shake our heads, it also made us evaluate some areas that you may also want to evaluate for your business. We asked ourselves:

1. Did we try to resolve this issue BEFORE it got to this point?

Yes. We apologized and tried to work through it privately. We welcome feedback, positive and negative, as this helps us keep the good and fix the bad. Sometimes you have to have uncomfortable conversations but these typically lead to stronger relationships.

But let’s get to brass tacks, and discuss specific items that this client was unhappy with (and you can see posted on the Internet, so no surprises here):

  • Invoicing thousands higher than quoted – We do take notes on our conversations and fees, although admittedly on our side, we wrote this down in our internal notes, but did not send an explicit email to the client. It was all verbal. (Yes, we’ve changed this now, and try to send email follow-ups in most cases with our newer clients). And, to be honest, we thought we had worked through this and come to a written agreement which knocked hundreds off our fees (and actually thousands, as we wrote off a lot of time ensuring the proper work was done so that CRA was happy). However, the next big mistake we made – when we made the agreement, we actually didn’t write down that it was “plus taxes”. Admittedly, this has never happened before or since to us. We had multiple phone calls and emails trying to get to the source of why there was a few hundred dollars that remained unpaid for months after we had come to an agreement. Finally, the client stated that he thought HST was included. OK – so we refunded the HST.
  • Instead of saving taxes, was told to pay more taxes – Yes, we definitely made a mistake on an HST return, which we admitted immediately, and fixed before it was filed. Although, as one of our other clients pointed out to us lately, he understood and accepted that it is responsibility to review the materials before submitted. (Actually, we also indicate this in our letters to our clients for HST returns, personal taxes, etc. We really do want you to review them because we are human, and we do make mistakes. When we do, it’s admittedly embarrassing, but we fix them.)
  • Received CRA collection call – actually this one is a constant problem that we have because by CRA rules require us to have signed forms from our clients to efile their returns, as we indicate in our letters with our final packages. If we don’t have it, technically we can’t efile. We have actually started reminding people in multiple ways– via a bright green reminder note in any packages we send (in addition to the “Sign here” stickers, and filing instructions), in the emails with invoices, and in follow-up reminders. It’s actually become a major project for our Admin team to try and get all this paperwork back. Once we have the paperwork, we can efile. (So, thanks to everyone who does send it back to us as soon as possible.)
  • Did not complete work charged for – we have many clients who are on a monthly payment plan that includes various aspects of their accounting work. They like it because it spreads costs over the year and is a good way to manage cash flow. Items that are included can be things like T4 or T5 slips, personal taxes, financial statements and so on. However, we can’t complete work if we don’t receive it. For personal taxes, for example, we need medical receipts, additional t-slips, investments, etc. Some clients, admittedly, like to bring this in every couple of years to catch up. In this particular client’s case, the materials for the personal return were never dropped off. When we parted ways, we actually refunded the money for the personal return. So, we didn’t actually “not complete the work” – sorry for the double-negative! We actually never received it to complete in the first place. And, in good faith, we did refund the credit on his account.

As you can see, we definitely tried, and tried, and tried again.

2. What is our current online presence and how are we monitoring it?

We made sure our google alerts were up to date. (Have you set these up for your business?) We want to keep on top of what is posted online about the firm. We also perused our other online presence to make updates, change stale information, etc. A little spring cleaning is always a great idea.

3. What current reviews do we have?

We checked into our current reviews and asked clients who had given us positive feedback privately if they could also do so publicly. To be honest, this is something we should have been doing all along, and we’ll keep this up going forward. Again, a great policy for you as well. The best part about this was the absolutely fantastic reviews we received. The time people took really made us feel honoured to be working for them.

So how do you fix it?

We try to be responsive and listen. But at some point, you can only do so much. Of course, being people who want to provide excellent customer service, you always question whether you could have done more. The answer to this question, in our heads, is always yes.

And, as business owners, the tendency is to focus on the last complaint instead of the last compliment. Why? Because you want to make sure you are doing the best for people who have entered into a sacred trust with you. When someone feels let down, it’s human nature to take it to heart and want to fix it. Why? Because you care! That’s one of the reasons why you’re a small business owner. (Definitely the top reason for us, as hokey as this may sound.)

But, sometimes, you can’t fix it.

Let’s say that again.

Sometimes you can’t fix it.

Not everyone is going to like you on Facebook, and a bad review is a bad review. However, a wise man once said about accounting “It’s not about numbers, it’s about people.” This really applies to all businesses doesn’t it? It’s not just an exchange of money for a service. It’s a relationship. And when you receive a “bad” review it’s an opportunity for you to understand that relationship better. Even if it doesn’t continue. It’s also a time to evaluate what kind of relationship and clients you do want to be working with.

Maybe the biggest lesson we learned out of this experience is that while not every relationship continues or turns out the way we’d like it, this is really a tiny fraction. The rest are client relationships that continue to grow with many we call friends.

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