Clock vs calendar for customer management

My stepfather is a very accomplished lawyer. One of his great sayings is, “I always look at the clock, and they look at the calendar.” This means that he has very different expectations from his clients as to when something needs to be completed.

If you are a CPA, lawyer, financial advisor, or any other professional service provider, your time (i.e. your brainpower) is the most valuable resource you have. And there is only a limited amount to do on any given day. Friction occurs when clients and professional service providers are out of step with top priority.

Whether it’s financial reports, a tax return, or just a reminder, we need to understand customer expectations. If you know that you will need three days to do your best job, but your client expects it to be done within 24 hours, there are bound to be conflicts and disappointments unless you define expectations in advance. Most of the time, customers are okay with the time frame you set as long as they know you’re working on their issues and you’ve given them a reasonable ETA to provide a solution. However, there may be extenuating circumstances when something that appears to be a routine task for you is in fact an urgent matter for your client. You have to listen to it.

More on this topic in a minute.

By aligning your expectations with those of the customer, you keep both the clock and the calendar in sync. In this way, customers feel appreciated, listened to and well served. Meanwhile, you’re not working around the clock, constantly on the verge of burnout.

When you take on an assignment from a client, say up front, “I think we can do this and get back to you by Friday (just one example). Does this work for you?

“You will probably get one of the following two answers:

1. “Actually, I need it by the end of the day tomorrow.” You have now identified a gap in expectations and you need to adjust your priorities.

2. Most often they will say, “Friday is great. Think about what would have happened if you hadn’t taken the time to ask your client in advance when you planned to deliver their work. What you thought was a reasonable delivery time would have been perceived as unacceptable delay by your customer. Same duty. Same level of complexity. Different expectations at the end. Seems familiar?

Control the clock

Don’t let customers tell you when something needs to be done. You are the pro; you decide. Always drive on your preferred schedule. If a client needs to climb, let them climb. They trust your abilities. Most will not increase.

Regarding income tax returns, this year we are advising most of our firm’s clients to file extensions. Most are fine with extensions, but you should always explain that you recommend the extra time so that you can compile all the documentation for the best possible result. Without the explanation, you might be seen as disorganized, irresponsible, or simply a procrastinator. Most customers agree to file an extension. But some will say: “No, I want the return to be made now (ie before April 15th)”. It helps you prioritize. Again, most customers don’t bother to file an extension as long as you tell them, “Here’s what most customers prefer and here’s why.” Customers want to be reassured that their feedback has not been lost or ignored. They want to be reassured that you are striving for the best possible result.

When routine becomes urgent

Going back to our previous example, suppose a client wants their tax return completed by the end of the day and you know it’s going to take you at least three more days. Having a three-minute conversation with that customer up front can alleviate a lot of stress on your end and avoid disappointment on the customer’s side. For example, sometimes a client may feel more urgency than usual about their tax return because they are considering closing a new home or other important transaction and they need to update their finances. as soon as possible. It is not about the return itself; this is the use of the return. Without having this brief conversation to begin with, however, you might think your customer is unreasonable, and you’ll likely have an unhappy customer on your hands.

The key to mastering the clock against the calendar is to give yourself plenty of leeway. For the majority of clients who don’t care when their return is filed – as long as it’s done on time – allow a few extra days of cushion. This gives you some leeway to handle emergencies that inevitably arise from other customers. By giving yourself a tampon, you can often get the job done ahead of time. It makes you look even more beautiful because you over-deliver. Who does this again?

Think about the last time you took a ride on Uber. The reason Uber is so successful is that its app tells you exactly where the car is at all times and how long it will take the car to get to your location. As long as you can see where your vehicle is and it’s moving towards you, you don’t mind the wait. But when the wait time is unlimited and you’re not sure the driver is lost and you have no idea how long you’re going to wait, that’s where the frustration sets in.

Whether you are dealing with clients or team members, if something needs to be done, always tell them up front, “I expect to have a response by date X. you? ”If not, you need to re-prioritize. Setting expectations is the key to success.