I don’t know what other people do, but I do try to match my manner and behaviour according to the client I am seeing, especially when visiting them in their own environment. My clients come from a lot of different backgrounds and vary in age from their early twenties to late eighties.
So how I deal with them depends on their expectations, and I try to keep them comfortable with me. Of course, if I am seeing a prospect for the first time I have to make a judgement based on experience, but if I know a client I already know what suits him or her.
What am I going on about? Well, I do not wish anyone to feel uncomfortable with me, so I think about my general demeanour, the manner in which I speak and the way I dress. I expect others do the same, whether consciously or otherwise.
Twenty-five years ago (it scarcely seems possible) I worked with a guy who provided bookkeeping services to a rock group and often worked in the office run by the band. My friend always wore his suit and tie when in our accountants’ office, but when he was at the band’s establishment he dressed down to very casual attire, because the staff were very laid back and living in the rock life environment. They would have been uncomfortable with a stuffed shirt and my colleague would have felt uncomfortable too.
It is all about managing expectations. My rule is (and you may laugh if you wish) that if I visit a business office I wear a suit and a tie, and of course a shirt as well. If I see a client who is younger who does not work in an office, so anyone from a drama teacher to a brickie, then maybe a jacket but definitely no tie. You get the picture. Then again these are the people with whom I am on first name terms; I have known them for a while.
There is then the older group, the over-seventies. They expect a tax practitioner not only to where a suit, shirt and tie, but to stay away from familiarity because that is the way they were taught to deal with their elders; they feel entitled to the same treatment and etiquette and that is what they get. I stick to “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Brown” etc. unless given permission to use their first names, though I do not get out of my own comfort zone by addressing anyone as Sir or Madam. I am a professional, not a servant!
I have cringed when visiting older people in hospital or seeing on television the elderly spoken to by medical staff using first names. People are stripped of a great deal of dignity by being in hospital or in having difficulty looking after themselves. They deserve to be treated with proper respect as it is better for their morale.
I guess the way I deal with each client is to make me feel more comfortable too; there is a selfish element. I learned from my rock band colleague how to make clients feel at ease with dress code and manner, but he also left a lesson not to get too much into character. I heard he died a sad rock star death at an early age and never had the fame to go with it. That was a hard lesson.
© Jon Stow 2009