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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I run a secretarial service from home and one of the services that I offer is bookkeeping and accounting. One of my new clients runs four separate businesses from one building and he wants me to get the books in order. My problem is that we only have two months before the end of the tax year, and the books are still in four shoe boxes in his shed and not on my desk waiting to be done.

How can I gently, but firmly get him to pass over the books?


Answer from our Guest Expert Donna Hall of The Right Answer, Customer Service Consultants


When I first became my own boss, I too stressed out when I had to tell clients to shape up and meet me in the middle. Like you, I couldn't do my job if they didn't do their part as well. So when these customer crises occurred, I decided to follow Mary Poppin's advice of "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!" So learn to sugar-coat the facts a little. Lay it on the line, but add a little frosting to sweeten the delivery. It's nonfattening and usually gets the job done more smoothly.

Be A Smooth Talker

Remember, Nicole, when you're on the serving end, the customers are right, but they can be taught to follow you, the leader. It's okay to tell a customer to shape up, but what's most important is how you say it. To better serve the customers, you sometimes have to put your foot down. But, be gentle and suave, and of course, sweet.

In your case, you could start off by saying, " I realize you're such a busy man, owning and operating four separate businesses, only a genius could do that! So, with all the concerns you must have on your mind, help me to give you the kind of service a man of your stature deserves. Let's show the IRS how efficient and in-control you are of your bustling biz. Can I get those books by Friday? I've reserved that day to work for only you. What do you say?"

See, Nicole? You too can learn the art of schmoozing and finessing customers, even when you feel you have to play the devil's advocate.

Cater to Their Business Sense

If flattery-will-get-you-nowhere applies to this client, then let him know the biz consequences if you don't get the books by Friday! Now, some clients need a push where it hurts them the most--in the wallet. For starters, gently remind this client you're on the clock, getting paid to call and pester to get the goods to finish the job. Seems harsh, but it isn't. And, in this instance, remind the client he'd be better off with you pushing for the books, and not the IRS! (That should motivate anyone!) Suggest the IRS may not be as understanding if tax payments and deadlines are missed Whisper, the word, "audit."

Let him know you take your work seriously too. And to get the job done right and on time, you need his help. It's impressive and it shows you know your stuff and you care. If a client's lack of cooperation can get you and him in trouble, tell them. But, make sure to also tell him you can save the day if he cooperates, starting right now! (Don't forget to add a few sweeteners in the conversations too.)

Try to push your hard-to-motivate clients' buttons to get them to do what you want. What makes them tick? Everyone's motivated by different circumstances. See if you can be creative in jumpstarting your clients to follow your lead. What will make them move?

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

In this case, I think it'd be best to be a pest. Make reminder calls--and plenty of 'em. Most often, these will help clients get the lead out, getting you the info you need to help keep them in tip-top shape.

As the number whiz, you know all the ins and outs of when and why certain tax forms and payments need to be mailed. So along with those reminder calls, mail out fun, but "act-now" messages, along with your biz card, to let them know an important date is looming. Specify what documents you'll be needing and by what time and day. You get to put your name in front of them again and if you'll also be getting your point across in a friendly, consistent manner.

Go the Distance

Another possible idea is to offer a pick-up service for those slow-to-respond clients. Let your customers know that you always have their best interest at heart, and you'll go the extra mile for them. In fact, if possible, give new clients this extra service option. (But be sure to factor in this extra service expense into your fees.)

If all else fails, mention to the client tongue-in-cheek, that you recently saw an IRS fax listing the names of people the IRS was looking for, and his name was on it! And the only thing left to do is get those books to you by 5:00 pm that evening. Tell him it's going to be tough, but with that tax seminar you just took, you're pretty sure you'll be able to keep him out of the big house.

But seriously, Nicole, as a professional service provider, it's most important to serve the customer. And a part of being a service provider is knowing when and how to motivate the customers to do what's needed to solve a service situation. A good service provider knows when to ask for help from the customer. Always ask for what you need well in advance if possible, and if time gets tight, be more adamant, and use some of these tips. But whatever you do, remember dear Mary Poppins' words of wisdom!

Have a great service day!


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