In 2019, Millennials will surpass the Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. Congratulations, my fellow Gen Y’ers – we are so close to officially having our reign! All kidding aside, many of us Millennials are at a turning point in our careers as we move into bigger leadership roles and take over longstanding client relationships from retiring partners or colleagues.

We often teach leadership groups how to better relate to their young people and their increasingly younger clients. In this post, I hope to do the opposite and explore some ways that young professionals can better relate to their elder generational counterparts. Developing and maintaining strong client relationships is a fulfilling aspect of working in public accounting. It can also be challenging, especially if you’re the successor of client relationships that were managed by someone else in the firm. It’s EVEN MORE challenging when you’re concerned the older client views you more like their adult child than they do a professional equal.

In this post, I’ll share three ways to better relate to more mature or experienced clients:

  1. Learn as much as you can about them. You may sometimes feel like you have nothing in common with a client from a different generation. Remember, people build relationships with those they can find connections with. What have you done to build rapport with your client? What are your interactions like? What questions can you ask them? To build rapport and find commonalities, you have to get your client talking and then be able to share back your own experiences, interests or perspectives. If this is an area in which you struggle, try incorporating some of these questions into your future interactions with them.

    If the client was transitioned to you, make sure to gather as much information as possible about the client and their business from the transitioner. This helps ensure you have the information you need to serve that client well and it will also help the client feel assured that the transition will be smooth. From there, you can continue to build your own rapport with the client.

    It's also a good idea to research your client online. You can learn a lot about them from their LinkedIn profile or other social media profiles, their bio on their organization’s website, any news articles or online publications that their name is attached to, etc. You’ll likely find at least one thing that you have in common with them – and there are many areas of connectedness that transcend generations like sports, musical preferences and hobbies.

  1. Learn as much as you can about their organization, industry or specific goals. Another way to build trust with your client is by sharing your knowledge, expertise and ideas related to their business and industry. You’ll garner respect when you can add value and insights that directly relate to their situation.

    There are many ways to become smarter about your clients’ needs. Research online publications that focus on your clients’ industries or issues and subscribe to them – articles and news will be delivered directly to your inbox. Follow the same publications on social media for almost real-time updates. Set up Google Alerts for your desired industries and issues and your clients’ businesses. Google will send you updates at your preferred frequency about any news or articles in which your client or their hot buttons are mentioned. Research related networking groups, conferences or events that you can attend. Share news, articles and things you learn on LinkedIn for others to benefit from, too.

    It’s not enough to passively “listen” to the news happening in your clients’ industry, business or lives, you must think about how you can use what you learn to add more value for your clients and communicate that with them.

  1. Pay attention to their communication preferences and their cues. None of us like to be stereotyped. And, despite what we’ve all heard, we know that communication preferences are individual and not all Millennials seek to only text and email and not all Baby Boomers want or need face time . Knowing this, it’s crucial to understand that the same concept applies to your clients. To better connect with your clients, pay attention to how they communicate and act with you. Do they respond to your email with a phone call? Are they only responsive when you send them an email with clear bullet points on what you need from them? This is important information to etch into your client service strategy for each client. People want to be communicated with in the way they prefer to communicate. If you want your client to hear your message, take action and see you as a capable, skilled advisor, then speaking to them in their “language” will help you get there. Better yet, ask them what their communication preferences are. It’ll show that you care about your relationship with them and you’ll know you’re meeting their preferences, too.

    The same principles apply to meetings. Don’t assume that your older client prefers to meet in person. They may be meeting you in person simply because you asked, and they feel they should oblige. Instead, you might ask your clients if they prefer to meet in person, by video meeting platform or by phone, and then plan accordingly. If you do meet in person, remember to dress for your client. If their office wears casual dress, you should try to mirror that (within reason – you still want to have a crisp professional image, but you don’t want your client to feel underdressed). If their office is business attire and your office is more casual, you should dress up more than usual when you visit them.

  1. Exceed expectations and ask for feedback. The easiest way to build trust with any client is to exceed their expectations and provide great client service. When you set and meet expectations, you’re showing your client that you value their time and their relationship, and ultimately, that you care. Consider taking our client service self-assessment to identify areas where you can improve your approach.

    Another way to build trust is by proactively asking for feedback from your client. When you do, you show that you care about your client’s satisfaction. Your client is more likely to be forthcoming with feedback when it’s solicited and will help ensure that you maintain open communication lines. Our client Keep, Stop, Start (KSS) is an easy approach to ask your clients for feedback.

You might be reading this and thinking, “These ideas apply to all clients,” and you’re right! The key is to ask yourself how intentional you’re being in applying these ideas. These ideas are integral to building lasting, sustainable relationships that are fruitful for the firm. When you do, you’ll find that you have great relationships with clients of all generations.

How do you build relationships with clients of opposite generations? What strategies do you employ for building rapport with others? Share with us in the comments below!

Kind regards,