How to take better meeting notes on client calls

You may have noticed that you’re taking more client meetings lately. The acceleration of the work-from-home trend has, in some ways, given some of your time back.

You might be saving time on not needing to commute to the office each day, or maybe you’re more productive when you work remotely.

Either way, for some, this time saved equals more time available for catching up with clients over video calls.

And now, onboarding clients over email and touching base on Zoom calls is the new normal. 

As inboxes burst at the seams and chat software like Slack secures its place in the business world, meetings will always be essential for building relationships with clients—virtual or otherwise.

Here are some tips on taking better meeting notes on client calls.

Why taking notes during calls with clients is key 

For some accountants, taking notes on calls is second nature. For others, it feels unnatural to stop and write while having a conversation. But note taking on client calls doesn't have to stunt the dialogue flow and is valuable for a few reasons:

1. Information retention

Even though you may pay close attention to what your client is saying and requesting during a meeting, studies show that we lose around 40% of the information we've heard within 24 hours without reinforcement. And nearly all of the conversation is lost within a week.  

But taking notes and reviewing them increases the likelihood you'll retain more of the information you heard on the call.

2. Job-sharing situations

Note taking is also useful if you share accounts or projects with colleagues. Sharing your notes about the meeting can keep everyone informed of any information transfers and help your accounting firm’s organizational practices.

You’ll want to make sure you have one single source of truth for your notes, so you and your colleagues are always on the same page.

Karbon is a great option for this. All information for a client—including contact details, accounting information, work and email communication—is located in one single place to be shared across your item. Meeting notes can also be saved as a note on the client’s Timeline, enabling everyone across your firm to stay on top of all client interactions.

3. Adding value for your clients with a recap

Clients should be kept on the same page too. You can do this by sharing your summarized meeting notes with them.

What to include in your meeting notes

If you're used to grabbing a pen and any nearby piece of paper when on a client call, it may be time for a strategy.

Before writing, keep your audience in mind:

  • Is this note for personal use? 

  • Are you sharing it with employees? 

  • Will the client be able to request access to the notes? 

These are essential points to consider when drafting any named document, especially when working with clients that fall under the protection of the EU's GDPR.

Before the meeting

Control the schedule

By preparing your notes for your client meetings, you’ll increase your ability to control the direction, timing and pace.

For example, when setting out the meeting agenda, you may discover you need access to the client's most recent P&L. By highlighting resources to bring to the meeting in your preparation notes, you won't be caught short when it comes time to discuss any issues.

You can also set a time limit to discuss each topic in the meeting. It doesn't need to be rigid. But it's helpful to determine if the conversation is productive. If you find you're halfway through the call, and there's still a lot to cover, you can gently encourage moving onto the next item or suggest another time to discuss a point in detail. 

You can also use tools, such as Karbon's Client Tasks, to set reminders and automate requests ahead of the call.

Reread notes from past meetings for inspiration

Referencing items discussed in past meetings helps clients feel remembered, respected, and appreciated. You may find it useful to reread notes from past meetings with the client, especially if it's been a while since your last appointment.

If you’re already using Karbon, you can use the Timeline view on any contact or work item to quickly see where things stand.

Plan your exit strategy

It may seem overboard to think about the end of the meeting before it's begun, but cleanly closing a client meeting will leave a good lasting impression. 

Plan to close the session with a familiar ‘wrap up’ dialogue to help everyone understand the meeting is coming to an end. 

For example, you may prompt the client to ask questions or sign off with when you'll next be in contact.

During the meeting

Whether in person or virtual, be open about taking notes, but do it discreetly. Let the client know you'll be taking notes on the call, but don't let the top of your head and furious scribbling or typing be their main takeaway from the meeting. Learn more about communication skills for accounting firms and teams.

Minutes and more

As well as acknowledging attendees and absentees, you may want to include any decisions made on the call, outcomes from actions between meetings, and things that need further action. 

Another item to include is what was not decided. Be sure to add anything that requires further discussion or follow-up to your notes.

Pain points

Include any pain points that clients bring up on a call. Sometimes they can be subtle or said in roundabout ways. You’ll gain brownie points by ‘reading their minds’ and avoiding the pain points or alleviating them.

Be brief

When taking notes, don't try to write everything. It's rarely helpful to transcribe, and better for retention to take down only the most essential parts of the meeting. Today, you can easily record meetings—with everyone's consent. Recording meetings can help you focus on the meeting's key points, leaving anything else to be referenced later if needed.

After the meeting

Take down any post-meeting thoughts, ideas, questions, or feelings as you reflect on the call. Sometimes it's in the post-call quiet that the best ideas are generated.

Materials and methods

Today, there are so many options available. But too much choice can also drive confusion and frustration. Note taking can be simplified into two standard methods and one popular speed technique:

Traditional pen and paper

Pen-and-paper is many people's comfortable go-to when it comes to note taking. While handwritten notes are often the most familiar way to document a meeting, it's necessary to consider sensitive client information security.

If you take handwritten notes, think about how you'll store them and how long for.

Going digital

Taking notes digitally can be extremely useful. Digital notes are:

  • Time-saving: easily uploaded to Practice Management software, such as Karbon, and shareable with exactly who you need

  • Cost-effective: with free and low-cost apps available, such as Evernote and Notability, you'll never have to invest in scores of legal pads again

  • Secure: store notes behind a password or in a secure system such as Karbon

Using shorthand

One trick to take faster notes is to write or type in shorthand. Shorthand can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. 

Learn a shorthand language 

You can dedicate some time to learning a handwritten shorthand language. Some shorthand languages, such as Teeline, boast a handwriting speed of up to 120 words per minute. Often shorthand languages are entirely illegible to anyone who hasn't also studied the method, so it's best to use these techniques for personal notes. You can always transcribe the notes if you need to share them.

Make up your own

You can also make up your own shorthand or use simplified codes. For example, you can rely on the brain's ability to read simplified versions of words by including only the most essential letters and refer to your accounting firm and the client using a specified acronym. 

Writing in any shorthand version may feel strange at first, but over time you won’t even need to think twice.

Don’t overthink it

If you want to retain more information, impress clients and collaborate easier with colleagues, develop your meeting note practice. Keep it simple and practical for your needs.

Having key information accessible and organized will allow you to do your best work.