Supporting clients in crisis: insights from UK Business Forums

by | Oct 15, 2020 | Content, Research

Accountants have been hard at work supporting businesses throughout the coronavirus outbreak, from managing furlough applications to providing information on grants and loans.

That workload shows no sign of slowing in the months to come, with less Government support, regional restrictions and decreased demand across several sectors making it incredibly difficult for some businesses to stay afloat.

The challenges that businesses faced before the pandemic outbreak haven’t gone away, meanwhile. If anything, the pressures of partnership difficulties, late payments, and workforce management are more pronounced now than they were before.

In our new insight report,Life after lockdown: How accountants can help SMEs adapt, we look at the key concerns for small business owners in the third quarter of this year – covering the time that national lockdown restrictions were lifted – and at how accountants can help their clients now and in the years ahead.

Flexible communications

From the Budget in March to the latest information on the job support scheme, important announcements on businesses, finance and the economy have been almost non-stop this year.

There were noticeable spikes in activity on UK Business Forums when announcements were made, with businesses turning to the forum to ask for details on new schemes, or speculate as to how they might be affected. But we know that many are going to their accountants with these questions, too.

If you’ve been dreading the onslaught of phone calls and emails from your clients every time the Chancellor announces a new scheme or measure, you’re not alone. Many accountants have felt overloaded with client queries this year – which can be particularly frustrating when you have exactly the same amount of information from the Government as your client does.

As the COVID-19 situation develops over winter, alert levels across different parts of the country could change, and the support offered to businesses may be updated too. It’s impossible to be fully prepared for surprise announcements, so the best thing you can do is stay on your toes, and have a plan of action at the ready.

You could set up a basic email template that’s ready to fill in with new information as soon as you know it – perhaps including some FAQs to deal with the most pressing questions your clients might have – and a few social media posts drafted and ready to go.

For slightly more time-consuming pieces of content like blog posts or website pages, you could outline the information you have so far, then revisit the page and update it when new details have been released. Communicating in this way does require a bit of work at first, but it means you spend far less time answering the same questions from clients over and over again.

Timely updates

As well as dealing with the financial pressure itself, many were finding it difficult to access the help they needed. There was a great deal of frustration with the way banks had handled loan applications, including a lack of communication and unclear reasons for rejection. The pressure on many SME owners, and unclear communication from banks, meant they felt uneasy even when there were no specific problems. One user who had applied for a bounceback loan with apparent success said:

“All looks very good but I haven’t received any emails or documents into my online bank. Is that really it? Nothing more to sign? “It all seems a bit too easy … Now I feel a bit anxious that I have nothing else to look to.”

This is where you can step in, to support your clients where other organisations have failed. If you’re guiding clients through loan applications, or access to any other forms of support, make sure they know exactly where they stand at each stage. Even if there’s nothing new to report, a regular update will help to put them at ease. A good customer relationship management (CRM) tool should help you to manage these communications and save time, with automatic email updates.

A sympathetic ear

Above all else, the main message that came through from users on UK Business Forums was that business owners – like many other people – are going through an intensely stressful period of time. One user, who had been running a business in the travel industry for 12 years, felt overwhelmed as they struggled to see a way forward:

“Every single waking moment is taken up by me looking for the next way of trying to generate some cash … I need to pick myself back up but just don’t know the direction to turn.”

Sometimes, your clients just need someone calm and knowledgeable to talk to, even if you don’t have all the answers.

Read our new report, ‘Life after lockdown: How accountants can help SMEs adapt’ for further insight.

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