Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Let Your Clients Know Your Expectations

This is one of those “back in the day” posts that perhaps younger people in the CPA profession tire of hearing. Yet, I still believe that some of the old ways might be the best ways.

I grew up in public accounting under the stewardship of a highly professional, disciplined, intelligent, dictator-style managing partner, Luke Ware. Luke “grew-up” in a Big 8 firm and I am just assuming that many of his actions/procedures were developed there. Our firm was small then. It ranged from 11 to about 22 people while Luke was the boss.

Client service was the focus, yet the clients were trained. That’s what we called it. They were trained to be ready when our CPAs arrived for an audit or review. All of the business owners were 1040 clients. They knew when their appointment was each year (yes, they came into the office to meet with the partner/manager) and they brought their organizer and all their documents with them (well, most of their documents).

Notice I said, “trained.” We trained our clients via communicating their responsibilities as part of our relationship. What we really did was clearly communicate our expectations. I hope you are doing the same.

In a busy, growing accounting firm it is the manager’s duty (or the partner) to be sure the client is ready for the auditors when they arrive on the appointed day. It is their duty to be sure the client understands their commitments to the beneficial relationship.

Some steps you might use:

  • Set an appointment date when you expect their data to arrive
  • Teach them how you would like to receive the data
  • Provide reminders as the date nears
  • Talk about these steps with all new clients as you add them to your client list

We sent an appointment card with the organizer (the kind they could stick on their refrigerator). These days you can send an appointment invitation via email. Each 1040 client received a reminder call the day before the 1040 appointment to remind them of the appointment (much like your dentist or eye doctor does now). If they didn’t have “all their stuff,” we told them to come anyway and bring what they did have so we could get started on the return.

As our firm grew, we got away from some of this because of the “time” involved in meeting with the client and the convenience of just having them drop-off or send in their information. We often use client service to hide the fact that we really want less time in the job. Meeting with a client, even for just a 1040, face-to-face once a year often opened the door to additional services – that was part of the plan.

What’s your plan? Do you permit clients to sabotage your schedule? These days I recommend developing a commitment statement between the firm and the client outlining the expectations from both and making it a discussion tool early in the relationship.

I have always believed that clients are impressed by a CPA firm that appears very professional, has defined procedures, communicates effectively and is an example of how you run a highly-successful business.

 

  • "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.' "
  • Muhammad Ali

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