We have all been to a doctor that had an impeccable bedside manner and we tend to remember it for a while. Bedside manner is the way a doctor interacts and communicates with us, their patient, and it is most memorable when we have an ailment that is either extremely concerning, painful, embarrassing or all of the above.

Typically, a physician with a good bedside manner is a strong communicator, while one without a good bedside manner may offend or may be overly abrupt with their patients. When we are fearful, in pain or uncomfortable, those medical personnel that readily put us at ease and make us feel that we have come to the right place are those that we depend on time and time again. They are those advisors that we come back to-even if they are more expensive than others in the field.

In the world of accounting, we don’t typically talk about bedside manner as it relates to how we communicate and serve our clients. We reserve it for the medical world. I believe that CPAs and CAs have a great opportunity to focus on improving their bedside manner for the good of the profession as well as for the good of the companies and individuals they serve. Health is a very personal thing and so is money. People take money seriously, get excited about it, nervous about the lack of it and sometimes experience great anxiety and pain when sorting out their financial position and forecasts. So, who is in a better place than you, the trustworthy accountant and most trusted business advisor, to show great empathy, listen well and ask questions in order to help put your patient, i.e. client, at ease?

The recent downturns and uncertainty of the economy has sparked many professionals to step up their communication with clients through what we call The Bear Hug Action Plan. This plan is a document that acts as a guide for the CPA and allows them to ask relevant questions of their top clients about their goals and issues and plans. This is one way to improve bedside manner. Many others have their own version and have begun communicating with clients more often and scheduling more face to face meetings to counsel their clients. Either way, the point is that many are out there asking pertinent questions and listening to our client’s concerns better than ever.

A good bedside manner for a doctor might include showing empathy, being open to communication, involving the patient in health decisions, and helping the patient feel more comfortable. A poor bedside manner can appear as hurried, a failure to listen to a patient, abruptness,  a dismissal of a patient’s fears, and arrogance. I would argue that the same goes for the CPA or CA.

In the medical profession, it appears that concern about bedside manner has increased in the past few years. Some medical schools for nurses and doctors now offer specific courses in practicing an empathetic approach to patients. In some hospitals, doctors are tested on their bedside manner with mock patients who are meant to test their tolerance. These courses and tests hope to improve the bedside manner of doctors who are not good communicators and who have little apparent sympathy for patients.

While you may have perfected your communication and treatment of your clients, how well have you passed down these standards to others in your firm? With such a strong focus on meeting budgets and realization, many firms are finding that partners and managers feel hurried and stressed and skip the connecting and listening phase when dealing with clients in order to be efficient. What happens is that the relationship suffers, true needs and wants go undiscovered and the relationship does not flourish the way it could. The full potential is lost due to the unintended lack of focusing on the actual client or person instead of the work itself.

A similar issue affects the modern physician. Doctors now see far more patients per day than ever in the past. What happens is that some doctors are abrupt and appear rude because they do not have time to listen like they have in previous years. This is a monumental problem because crucial information can be missed when a patient is not given enough time. Studies show that doctors who listen to their patients thoroughly before diagnosing are more likely to order the proper tests and make a correct diagnosis than those who are hurried and not listening well and jump to immediate conclusions based on their past experiences.

Bedside manner can affect the quality of care a patient receives in a doctor’s office or hospital just as it can affect the quality of advice and work in your office or your client’s office. Now may be a good time to take a look at the quality of the bedside manner both you and your staff are offering to your clients. This includes how your phone is answered, how your material is gathered, and the time that you spend with them getting to know their business and the people in the business. This also very much includes the way that you communicate solutions and actions steps.

Think about a time that you really helped a client and you could see it in their eyes that you made a difference in their life and business. Strive to have more of those moments. You don’t have to cure a disease to have these.  Improve your bedside manner and use your gifts of financial literacy and accounting and have more moments like this. Encourage your staff to focus on the people, the pain, the problem so that you can do what you do best and have a long term impact on the financial health of your clients and their businesses. Trust me-they will remember it.

About the Author

Angie Grissom serves as the President of The Rainmaker Companies, a leading provider of alliance, consulting, and training services exclusively for the Accounting Profession. She is passionate about the current and future leadership in the accounting industry and pushes firm leaders to build firms that empower people and have strong future leaders and unmatched client service. She encourages leaders to think outside the box and have a focus on getting results. 

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