Should you become friends with your clients?
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Should you become friends with your clients?

May 10, 2021 · 3 min read

When prospects convert to clients and customers—and stay with your organization for many years—it’s usually because you and your colleagues offered accounting services and support that is valued and appreciated.

However, one especially important aspect of increasing recruitment and retention beyond your accounting smarts is the personal relationships you develop. After all, if a client does not get along with his or her service provider, the client will go elsewhere.

Developing a personal relationship with your client is important because it helps you retain the client for the long term—but it’s also important for us as human beings because we are programmed to thrive on interaction and dialog. In time, you may come to think of your clients as devoted friends and see each other outside of work interactions.

Yet, you may not be comfortable stepping outside of your workplace demeanor. If you are a private person and want to keep your work relationships strictly professional, at what point do let your guard down?

Here are steps you can take to secure your clients’ trust and cultivate a one-on-one rapport for winning results—while still maintaining your professional persona.

Start with trust

There is no way a relationship can move from professional to personal without mutual trust. We experience this every day in the workplace. Once you trust a colleague, a bond begins to form, and you talk about topics that are more personal.

It works the same with your clients or customers. But as we know, there is no set of rules or guidelines that lets you know when it’s okay to trust someone.

Instead, you have a gutfeel with some triggers along the way. Perhaps a client shared something of a personal nature with you that had to do her health or family. Suddenly—probably without giving it too much thought—you have become a trusted friend and you would not betray that trust.

Become a trusted business advisor

This sounds cliché, but it’s true. The AICPA has promoted the CPA a “trusted business advisor” for one good reason: owners and stakeholders look to the CPA as an expert who help businesses grow.

Once you become a trusted business advisor to a client, she will come to appreciate your point of view and treat you more like a peer than a provider. But how do you let the client know you can be trusted?

  • Actions speak louder than words! Your work with a client will prove your accounting experience and expertise, especially if you improve their business.

  • Describe your solution in real-word terms the client can understand. Not everyone is as numbers-savvy as a CPA. So if, for example, you reduced a client’s tax liability, frame that savings in terms of someone tangible. “

  • Offer referrals to the client. Instead of always being the one to seek referrals to increase business at your firm or organization, have a one-on-one discussion to figure out who you can introduce the client to for increased business. This approach might be unexpected, but likely welcomed by the client. Best of all, it ensures you keep the position of “trusted business advisor.”

Respect certain boundaries

Most likely, you’ll know in your heart when it’s not right to infringe on a professional relationship because the feeling just isn’t there. Perhaps the client makes it clear that the conversation should be all about business, or perhaps you’re just not comfortable crossing the line.

That’s okay, of course. You don’t have to be friends with all your clients. Chances are, just as in our close personal relationships, you may only be friends with a handful throughout your career. Don’t second guess yourself and begin to think there’s something wrong with you. In fact, you may never know the reason a client does not become a friend.

The bottom line for you and your organization is to find any way you can to build and keep business. If you keep a client based on friendship, that’s great. But be wary that above all, you are employed by your company to do the best job you can, regardless of if the client is a friend or just another business relationship. Trust your judgment. Trust in yourself.


This article is brought to you by the AICPA Diversity & Inclusion Team. For inquiries about this or other D&I topics, contact Diversity@aicpa.org.

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