All in the mind

Customer care is one of the main skills today’s accountant cannot do without. Iwona Tokc-Wilde finds out how to develop the right attitude

If you work, or hope to work, in an accountancy practice, virtually everything you do evolves around serving the needs of the firm’s fee-paying clients. Throughout your career, the importance of building strong client relationships will be drummed into you time and time again because the success of any practice depends on its ability to gain and retain clients.

Financial institutions operate on a similar premise except, in addition to their clients or customers, they also serve and have an obligation to their shareholders or members. Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers in the UK. It has mutual (as opposed to public limited company) status, which means that it is owned by and run for the benefit of its members.

‘Customers are at the heart of everything we do,’ says Michele Faull, divisional director for financial reporting at Nationwide. ‘In finance, we play a crucial role in this – we help keep the business safe and secure performing the checks and balances that safeguard both the Nationwide's and our customers’ finances, we use our technical skills to manage balance sheet notes and we translate often complex financial information and accounts into something that is clear and easy for all our members to digest and understand.’

There is no escaping clients or customers even if you do not deal with them directly. Integrated business operations mean that people in other departments are your customers when they depend on your work to be able to do their own.

‘While most of the people working in my team do not have much direct contact with customers, they do have to develop, nurture and maintain successful relationships with other business areas – our "clients" or "business partners",’ says Faull. ‘In that sense, many of the same qualities that are so important in maintaining good customer relationships also apply internally.’

Lastly, in a work environment, everyone is a customer – at least to some extent – and that includes your boss and your colleagues. So, what is good customer care all about and how do you develop and showcase essential customer care skills and qualities?


‘Good customer care is always putting everything you do through the lens of what is right for the client, although this doesn’t mean that you should act like they are always right,’ says Heather Townsend, executive coach and co-author of How to Make Partner and Still Have A Life. Your approach to a client or customer must be tailored, too – you must listen, understand, anticipate and respond to their individual wants and needs. ‘A "one size fits all" approach simply isn't good enough,’ says Mark Foley, head of Kaplan UK Account Management.

Beyond the provision of professional advice and services to a high standard, clients also need and expect unwavering reliability, honesty and courtesy. They also need to know they can trust you.

‘This means accountants turning up to meetings punctually, talking openly and affably, answering clients’ questions in straightforward terms, dispelling their concerns and allowing them to leave every meeting feeling confident their accountant cares about their future and is keen to see them succeed – not just for their own financial gain, but because they're genuinely interested in their business,’ says Foley.

Outside of meetings, they expect regular communications too, and want you to be accessible. ‘They hate having to go through a set of gatekeepers to get to speak to you,’ says Townsend.

All of this is part and parcel of good customer care, and also applies if you work in a finance function where other departments rely on you.

‘They expect us to provide a consistently high-quality product that is both accurate and timely as our output could be used to inform an important business decision or published externally to explain the performance of the business,’ says Faull.


To deliver great customer service, following a set of rules or prescribed behaviours is not enough – you also need to adopt an attitude, or a mindset, where satisfying customers or clients is your number one priority.

‘Anyone can follow rules,’ says Townsend. ‘Having a mindset orientated to client care is slightly different. It means questioning and challenging everything the firm does to make sure that the clients come first and looking for ways and opportunities to get better at delivering a great client experience. Far too often firms build their systems and processes based around what works for the firm.’

Sometimes rules may need to be flexed according to circumstances (or even broken) to keep your customers happy.

‘Procedural rules allow for only a very basic customer service in many organisations, which can often frustrate clients with its lack of flexibility. You need to be able to work around the rulebook,’ says Foley.

Certain skills and qualities also help deliver great customer experience. ‘For example, ability to remain calm in a crisis and good listening and questioning skills,’ says Townsend. ‘After all, you need to be able to listen deeply to what clients want and need in order to be able to deliver them excellent client care,’ she adds.

Foley agrees communication skills are absolutely vital for developing and maintaining good client relationships.

‘We no longer just sit behind desks crunching numbers – whether working in practice or industry, today’s accountant must be able to communicate daily with a range of both internal and external stakeholders, treating them with the appropriate respect and politeness,’ he says.

"We no longer just sit behind desks crunching numbers – whether working in practice or industry, today’s accountant must be able to communicate daily with a range of both internal and external stakeholders, treating them with the appropriate respect and politeness"

Mark Foley - Kaplan