control, and governance
How Do I ... Improve Client Relations?
Internal auditors must break down any barriers that keep them from those who perform the actual business tasks, while at the same time avoiding any damage to their rapport with the primary audit contact. By enhancing their interpersonal soft skills, auditors can walk this delicate line more effectively and increase the likelihood of identifying opportunities for organizational improvement. Several key skills, in particular, help auditors gain access to all relevant clients and elicit the kind of information that will result in better audits.
GET TO KNOW THE CLIENT
Auditors should try to meet with primary audit contacts before starting the audit. Meeting the client for lunch, for example, can help “break the ice” and provide a more relaxed environment for initial discussion. During the meeting, auditors should try to identify some common ground that can be used throughout the engagement to shore up the relationship and build rapport.
UNDERSTAND THE BUSINESS
Internal auditors need to learn about the business process under audit before speaking with process owners. Otherwise, clients may perceive the auditors as ill prepared or uninformed. When an auditor lacks familiarity with the client’s business, internal auditing’s credibility and professionalism may be called into question, and the relationship with the client can quickly become impaired.
Auditors should avoid excessively confident or arrogant behavior. In most instances clients will know more about their operation than the auditor, and they deserve respect for their expertise. Although the auditors should seek to add value by offering suggestions for improvement, they need to approach this process tactfully and avoid condescension. Working collaboratively with clients in a didactic manner typically achieves the best results.
ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
When asking tough questions, auditors should avoid phrasing that may seem confrontational, and they should refrain from steering the response. For example, instead of saying, “You review the xyz report weekly, correct?” the auditor could say something like, “Could you help me understand how often you review the xyz report?
Clients should be assured that the audit team is only interested in the facts and that no one is looking to judge them or their work product. Auditors need to listen carefully and objectively to their clients and avoid approaching discussions with preconceived notions or biases. Maintaining impartiality will not only enhance audit results, but it should result in a stronger relationship, even when engagements lead to numerous audit findings.
Adapted from "Improving Client Relations," by Michael A. Breon and Randall F. Stellwag (Internal Auditor, "Back to Basics," October 2009).
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