Tiffany Couch, CFE, CPA/CFF
Principal, Acuity Group PLLC
Few things can damage an investigation (or your professional reputation) faster than an unhappy client. If you have ever managed a fraud investigation, then you probably know that performing the work of the actual investigation is often easier than managing your client's expectations. We often meet our clients at their worst possible moments. Faced with the loss of funds, often by someone they trusted the most; they are emotionally charged and looking to us for a quick fix.
It was late on a Friday afternoon when my office phone rang. Before I could say, "Hello," I realized I had a potential new client on the line. Without stopping to breathe, she rattled off who had referred her to me, that she believed she was the victim of a fraud (at the hands of her bookkeeper), and that she was SO upset and didn't know what to do or where to start. I told her to start by taking a deep breath. And then, I offered to come down to her office right away (there went my quiet Friday afternoon).
When I arrived, she was in tears, her staff bewildered and no one seemed to know what to do next. After identifying the key issues, I quickly came up with a plan of action and then told her, "I'm truly sorry this has happened to you. It isn't fair. I can assure you that I can help. But, I won't be able to solve it all today. And, neither will you. Go home, try and relax, and let's revisit this on Monday morning."
As my former client likes to tell the story, it was as if I had lifted the elephant off of her shoulders. Simple words, certainly. But those simple words told my client a few things:
I cared. Remember, our clients need more than our financial expertise; they often need our counsel. It's never a waste of time to listen.
I could handle it. As experts, our job is to cut through the chaos, identify a preliminary plan of action and thus show our ability to lead the client through the process.
I was realistic. Communicating to your client that the process of an investigation takes time and isn’t solved “overnight” is imperative.
Certainly, the work we do can help bring closure to certain aspects of the problem(s) our clients face. However, our work is best done in an environment where communication and understanding are just as important as properly collecting evidence and conducting interviews. In fact, the key to your future success (i.e. ongoing client referrals) is your ability to manage your client’s expectations.
Join Couch at the 23rd Annual ACFE Fraud Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, June 17-22, 2012, where she will discuss in-depth how to best manage client expectations.