CPAs have long relied on emails to communicate through all stages of a client relationship. And with CPAs and clients unable to meet in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, emails are more important than ever, and in your business too.
Here are nine tips from CPAs on how to get their emails noticed in clients’ inboxes and how to communicate more effectively and efficiently.
Tailor emails to your audience. Knowing who you are communicating with and your desired goal should help you stay focused on your content and frequency.
The level of formality can also change with the type of client and the stage of the relationship. The tone of email communications is likely different for prospects, where you are offering something to meet the prospect’s needs, than for existing clients, where you are asking for information needed to meet his or her needs in servicing your client. All communications need to be professional, but professional can include being warm, friendly, inviting, and even lighthearted when appropriate.
Know when to email. Emails are a good way to recap phone conversations or meetings and confirm understandings. In addition to personalized emails, standard emails and templates can be appropriate for sharing instructions and information with existing clients and checking in with them on a periodic basis.
Although emails are recognized as the mainstay of communication in a professional services environment, everyone has certain clients who prefer phone calls over emails. Also, there may be times when an email is not the best way to communicate.
It is important to learn when to email, when to call, and when to meet. If you find yourself rewriting and editing an email too many times, the subject may be too nuanced for an email or it may take too long to get it just right. When you talk, people are more forgiving, and you can correct yourself or get feedback as you go along.
Be responsive. Try to acknowledge receipt of an email within minutes. If you can’t fully address it right away, let the sender know you received it and when you will respond. While it may not always be possible to respond to all emails instantaneously, it is a good practice to set individual standards for timely responses to emails and stick to them.
Keep it short. It is important to be concise. Using shorter paragraphs and bullets can help with that. For best readability, emails need to clear these hurdles:
- Who is it from?
- Why is it important?
- What do I need to do?
If the reader needs to read a long email to figure out whether it is informative or they need to take action, it’s likely too much to ask of the recipient. Be aware that many clients are reading emails on their cellphones. If the email can’t fit on a smartphone screen, it’s probably too long. If you are trying to convey more information than can fit, you also might want to consider if a call is better instead.
Use attachments wisely. It is better to use attachments than to send lengthy emails, in general. Putting it in an attachment gives them what they need and makes it easier for them to share the document with their own content. Both emails and attachments can be printed if they might be needed in your client’s file, allowing others to easily reconstruct the conversation, if needed, in the future.
Pay attention to subject lines. Make your client want to open your email. Use the subject line to tell people why they should open the email, not what is in the email. Making a subject line relevant to the reader rather than the sender will incentivize the reader to read the email. This also acknowledges the number of emails that might be vying for your client’s attention, help them determine to open your email 1st!
For example, there is no need to make “XYZ Company financial statements” the subject line of an email to the owner of XYZ Company. Instead, use a subject line describing why the email is being sent and what action is needed, such as, “Review and approve XYZ Company financial statements.”
Restructure the content. It is recommended that the message start with the ask or the invite, then tell the recipient why the request is being made. Begin the email with a direct request, such as asking a client to upload specific documents to the client portal. Then move on to explain the importance of this request and why it matters, such as stating the documents are needed to complete the client’s tax filings. Start with the ask and then explain why, and you will get a better response rate and a better level of engagement.
Be aware of email security issues. There are restrictions and protocols over when emails can be used and what can be included in emails, and IT guidelines for email security should be followed. Personal and health information and government contract data should never be sent via email. Consider using secure portals for sharing sensitive information such as banking information.
Keep your cool. Review all emails and attachments before they are sent to avoid potential embarrassment or privacy issues. It is also important to make sure you don’t fire off an email immediately if you are feeling heated about the topic but to come back to it after you’ve taken a breath. It is best to never send an email that you will regret a week from now. It’s better to park it in your drafts folder for a while and go back and read it before you send it.
By thinking through how to best communicate with clients using email and making a few changes, you can work more efficiently and potentially improve your relationships with clients.
In part from the Journal of Accountancy