Practicing proper etiquette will help build rapport and provide your client a great experience.
It’s Sunday night, and you’re anticipating the coming week. As you prepare your mind for the next audit, you run down your typical considerations. Will my flight be on time? Will the paperwork be ready? Will coffee be available? I hope we meet budget. But as an external auditor, how much time do you spend considering the specific needs of your clients? How would you say your auditing approach is perceived?
A good audit is not just about the numbers. It’s also about how you conduct the audit and interact with your clients. Thinking beyond checklists and accounting standards to the people involved is essential to building and maintaining business relationships. Such relationships always involve mutual trust, respect and commonality of purpose. Practicing the right professional manners will do much towards building that rapport and providing your client with a great audit experience. Failing to practice proper etiquette can place bumps in the road.
My observations point to the following rules of etiquette for auditors during their onsite fieldwork. Some of these may be obvious to you; perhaps others you haven’t considered.
- Make formal introductions of new audit team members.
- Arrive informed of any previous, relevant discussions between the partner and the client. Thorough, top-down audit team communication with the partner, manager and staff is a must.
- Show consideration for your client’s time. Remember, he or she has a job to do while also addressing your concerns.
- Develop well thought-out questions. Your statements and questions should be based on sound information, not conjecture.
- Respect your client’s privacy. Ask how he or she prefers audit questions to be addressed. An unscheduled knock at the door with “a quick question” may be bothersome. He or she may desire questions to be handled through a face-to-face meeting, email correspondence, or at a designated time of day. It’s best to aggregate your questions to avoid multiple interruptions.
- After asking a question, actively listen. Avoid the temptation of immediately suggesting an answer. Instead, keep silent and let the client answer the question thoroughly. They know their business better than you do.
- Honor your client’s time requests. For example, if he or she indicates an extra day is needed to get you a particular piece of information, don’t continue asking for it ahead of time.
- Seek to complete audit testing and procedures during fieldwork. This lends to timely service, fewer disruptions following fieldwork, and quicker turnaround time.
- Stay in touch with your client after completing fieldwork through the end of the job. Don’t come back with questions three weeks since your last communication.
- While at your client’s location, make their work a visible priority. To the extent possible, do not make phone calls to other clients and don’t schedule web-based CPE programs in their conference room. From the client’s perspective, this implies you have better things to do. They also may question who is being billed for your time.
- Recognize you are being entrusted with sensitive financial information. When you the leave the room, be sure to lock down your computer, conceal any client-provided documents, and close the door. It’s best to ask the client how he or she prefers you handle this.
- Maintain professional skepticism. Not only is this required under professional standards, informed clients take notice of this and appreciate it. Strike a proper balance between a good working relationship and maintaining your professional independence.
- Don’t make commitments you cannot deliver. If you promise a delivery date for your report, make sure it’s reasonable, and follow through.
- Strive to keep the same people on the engagement from year to year.
- Review client-provided work papers thoroughly before asking a lot of questions to which you may already have the answers.
- Seek clarification of potential issues or findings before assuming there is a problem and reporting it to management.
- Sincerely and graciously compliment your client for his or her assistance during the audit.
- If you make a mistake in your interactions with a client, recovery is possible. Have an attitude of honesty and humility. Apologize, correct course and move forward. There is no need to continually bring undue attention to the incident.
- Be tactful in your conversations with audit team members during fieldwork. Use good judgment and keep your dialogues professional.
- When you pack up, leave the room in good order. Respect your client’s property.
Much can be said regarding etiquette in a handful of other areas as well, such as client meetings, professional attire and client entertainment. While these situations are not covered here, all rules of etiquette can be summed up as treating others with preference and respect. Continue practicing great etiquette, and you’ll see yourself grow as a professional and improve the quality of services you deliver. iBi