Gerard Donnellan

Creating Rock Solid Client Relationships

Deep, meaningful client relationships need attention and need to be developed over time. Six strategies show you how to develop these important relationships.

December 5, 2011
by Gerard Donnellan, PhD

Clients want our best work. They want us to be thinking about their goals and needs and how we can best serve them. And this is what we should want for them. If we really connect with our clients they will be our best promoters. They will appreciate what we do for them.

How can you get to that point in which your clients not only trust you but also feel connected to you as a person and spread the word about you?

Key Strategies for Success

Here are six strategies that can help you create and deepen your client relationships:

  1. Listen

    In conversations with clients, many CPAs think about their responses while talking with them. That is not listening. To listen to your clients you need to actually be focused on their interests, what their concerns are and what is really on their mind. If you listen in that way, actively listening, you will learn more about them and their goals and be in a terrific position to respond in a genuine and thoughtful way. By reflecting with them, for example, they will feel listened to: “Let me see if I am getting what you are saying. So you have been thinking about adjusting your investment goals and recently heard … ?” With such an engaged response, you will understand more about what they are saying and they will appreciate you for listening to them.
  2. Be Yourself

    Don’t try to be what you are not. Clients respond to genuineness and authenticity. They do not like, nor do they trust, phonies. They like to hear stories of success with clients or even challenges others have had. It is an opportunity to let them know that you listen to them, that you take them seriously and want to be of help.
  3. Deliver

    Nothing says honesty, trustworthiness and genuineness like delivering on what you say you will do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be realistic. One rule of thumb I have tried to live by is, “If you promise it for Friday, get it done by Tuesday.” Clients love to hear, “It’s done, I am sending it right over.” Rather than, “Just ran into a little glitch — it won’t be ready till sometime next week.”
  4. Have Honest Conversations

    Clients hire CPAs because of their trust in them. Honesty and forthrightness go a long way in deepening that trust. What is called the Fair Process in organizational behavior applies here: people will be committed to just about any outcome of a process as long as they feel listened to, be engaged in the process and the process has been transparent. If you tell a client, “These are the options we need to consider. Let’s take a look at them and think about what might work for you. I am sure we will be able to figure this out,” you engage them in the process and they do not remain passive recipients. It becomes a transparent approach to what could be a difficult conversation.
  5. Lighten Up

    Clients pick up on your anxiety and that worries them. Even when the news is not so good, your clients will appreciate comments such as, “I know, I wish it could be better. But right now, this is what we have to work with. In the long run …”

    More than anything, clients want to hear your realistic hope about the situation. This is not, “Everything will be just rosy, just put on a happy face.” It is more an acknowledgement that the situation may be tough, but you have strategies and ideas for going forward that offer hope for a positive outcome.
  6. Exceed Expectations

    It needs to be said. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is half the battle.” For CPAs, it should also mean being available for your client, showing a keen interest in them, their family and their plan.


There are some pitfalls when what CPAs hope to accomplish with a client does not turn out that well. The most common pitfalls are:

  • Blaming themselves;
  • Blaming the client;
  • Blaming the universe.

None of these is helpful for the client or for you.


Finally, never, ever say, “It is what it is.” This just avoids the issue, makes you passive, condescending and offers no hope or solution. Strike them from your vocabulary.

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Gerard J. Donnellan, PhD, is president of BIG LEAP and is a clinical and consulting psychologist in Lexington, MA. He is also the author of, Who Will Drive the Bus? Guidance for Developing Leaders in the Family Enterprise (2011, Amazon).