Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category
Monday, December 2nd, 2013
I’ve heard it for years and years, “Watch out for scope creep.” “”How do we guard against scope creep?” “How do we teach our young accountants about scope creep?” “Most of our partners actually give too much away.” And so on.
I have two thoughts on this topic and they contradict each other!
First of all, I believe that the more you give away (of yourself, of your knowledge and of your expertise), the more will eventually come back to you.
In contrast with that, CPAs SELL knowledge, it’s their business. I always tell CPAs they have the toughest sales job ever…. nobody wants what they sell – tax returns and audits. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I can’t wait until it’s time to get my taxes prepared!” or “Hooray, the auditors are coming next week!”?
During a client engagement, you warn your staff to watch out for scope creep. If the client asks for more we need to issue a Change Order. How often does that really happen? Most CPAs just take a write-off when it comes time to bill.
CPAs – your years of experience and the extensive knowledge you have, plus your continuing education to keep current is of tremendous VALUE to your clients. Never be afraid to bill a client for value delivered. It’s your business, it’s what you sell!
I found some great tips about scope creep from Erika Napolentano on American Express Open Forum:
A clear scope of work is the best defense. (In the CPA world that’s your engagement letter.)
Some clients don’t even realize they are asking for something that goes beyond the scope. When you find a client asking for something that isn’t in the project scope, here’s how to say yes – when you’re really saying no:
Hi Client Awesome,
Thanks so much for the ideas on adding X to our project. We’re glad you’re happy with our work so far and that you’re trusting us to get even more involved in your brand’s success.
We’d be happy to add <stuff not in scope of work> to the project scope. We’ll send over a revised scope of work for your approval. Once we have that, we’ll send you estimated delivery times and add the additional work to the project’s final billing installment.
You’ll receive that revised scope shortly.
One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
I remember when voice mail was the leading edge technology that helped CPAs better communicate with their clients. From my viewpoint, voice mail is still something widely used by CPAs. However, in the broader business world, it is becoming a thing of the past.
Admit it. Don’t you hate playing phone tag? I had a call the other day and the person was actually shocked that I answered the phone! Many people believe that voice mail has become a handicap. I sometimes feel that people use it as a way to stall or to avoid actually talking to a client because it might be an uncomfortable conversation.
Per an article via Forbes many people admit that they never retrieve their voice messages. That the technology is in decline is no secret. In 2012, Vonage reported its year-over-year voice mail volumes dropped 8%. More revealing, the number of people bothering to retrieve those messages plummeted 14%. More and more personal and corporate voicemail boxes now warn callers that their messages are rarely retrieved and that they’re better off sending emails or texts.
I have one client who has automated his voicemail box to turn it into an email automatically and his message warns you about that fact. So, I never leave him a voice mail!
Hopefully, your firm has embraced the technology of mobile devices, using instant messaging, texts and emails to communicate important information. Ask you clients which method they prefer, keeping in mind the generational differences and preferences.
As my son said to me a couple of years ago, “Mom, don’t leave me a voice message, I never check it. Just text me.”
The truly productive have effectively abandoned voicemail, preferring to visually track who's called them on their mobile devices.
Michael Schrage, Forbes blogger
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
During my consulting and advisory work with firms, the collection policy topic comes up on a regular basis.
When I am talking with a group of CPA firm administrators and the topic of collections comes up I observe almost all of them rolling their eyes when I ask, “Do all your partners follow the firms collection guidelines?”
It is one of those many things inside a CPA firm that is fairly simple but that seems to become complicated when you are dealing with multiple partners. My message to CPAs: You are running a business and effective collections is a basic business activity.
Here’s my thoughts on CPA firm collections.
A documented, widely published Collection Policy is the foundation for good cash flow, the life blood of a firm.
- It must come from the top – all owners.
- They need to meet, discuss all of the options and arguments then come to agreement on what they can truly live with, for the good of the firm.
- Management drafts the document and all owners review and approve.
- The written policy is communicated to all team members and is posted on the firm’s Intranet.
- Everyone involved – managers, staff, controller, administrative assistants, firm administrator thoroughly understands and monitors compliance with the policy
- AR statements should be mailed monthly to ALL unpaid accounts, no exceptions.
- Your collection administrator should routinely write notes/requests on the AR statements when there is a difficulty with collection.
- A service fee should be applied for balances over 30 days.
- Collection should be performed by a part-time administrative person (collection administrator) who is skilled in client communication and has no other priorities. This person’s role is also defined in writing and they operate within certain parameters.
- They begin calling (not emailing) at 31 days. I used to say 45 days but during the current economic downturn it is better to do it sooner.
- When the collection administrator exhausts all avenues with a particular, difficult client or when it ages beyond 90 days, it goes back to the partner in charge of the client account for collection, along with Managing Partner involvement.
When I receive calls from firm leaders seeking my assistance, they often tell me that they seem to be at a plateau or crossroads. They lack documented systems and procedures and things like collection are causing friction.
Take action now, during the Fall months. Break your processes down into manageable bites and develop simple steps, like the ones above for collection.
The bottom line – all partners must agree to follow the published procedures, if they cannot, they must keep working on the policy until they CAN all agree.
Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing, layout, processes and procedures.
Friday, October 4th, 2013
Before making a decision, most CPAs and their clients like to hear all of the options. It never hurts to get a second opinion much like you would do in a medical situation.
Relating to your prospective clients
Many firms have been successful with offering prospective tax clients a “free second opinion.” Try organizing a marketing campaign around it. Let those important prospects know that your firm offers a free “second look” at their past tax returns and will offer comments and suggestions FREE of charge.
Relating to your firm and practice management
Has someone in your firm gone to a conference and heard a great idea from another firm and immediately began the process of implementing it at your firm?
I find this usually happens with managing partners when they attend their CPA firm association managing partners’ annual meeting. It also happens when firm administrators get ideas from other administrators at various meetings and conferences.
Gathering and considering all of those great ideas is a VERY good thing but be sure you think it through and plan carefully to ensure success. What works for your old friend Bob from the California firm (much larger than you) or what works for that progressive firm in NYC might not be exactly what would make a good fit for your firm in rural Indiana.
A lot of great ideas used by other firms and, yes, suggested by consultants like me, might not be compatible with the way your particular group of partners think or act. Just like you would do if you were faced with a serious medical situation, when you are faced with a serious management situation, gather more than one opinion, weigh your options and then proceed.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
I hear many stories from my clients and friends in public accounting.
Sometimes I hear about frustrations and challenges. But, I also often hear some really cool things, such as how firms are serving their clients by doing special things for them. Here’s a great example.
Nolan, Giere & Company CPAs in Troy, Ohio does Shred Day In The Park every year. They arrange for a shred truck to come to the Park and they invite their clients to bring things they need to shred and to join the firm team members for a picnic lunch. The clients love it!
Before and after they promote it on their Facebook page. What are you doing to make your clients smile?
One of the nice things about the Senior Tour is that we can take a cart and a cooler. If your game is not going well, you can always have a picnic.
Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
On Monday, I blogged about the one-firm firm and the aspect of Loyalty from the writings of David Maister. Today, we’ll continue our exploration of this topic.
Other aspects of the “one-firm” system are:
Downplaying Stardom – Much like loyalty, in one-firm firms, the leaders and other members of the firms view themselves as belonging to an institution that has an identity and existence of its own. This type of firm places great emphasis on its firm history, broadly held values and a reputation that all work to preserve.
Teamwork and Conformity – The emphasis on teamwork and “fitting in” creates an identity not only for the firm but also for the individual members of the firm. This identity, for better or for worse, is readily identifiable to the outside world.
Long Hours And Hard Work – Although great teamwork is emphasized, one-firm firm members are no slouches. Long hours and hard work are the norm. Plus, they “get the job done” and basically take it all in good humor. They truly love what they do.
Sense of Mission – Although loyalty to the institution is part of it, there is also a great sense of “mission,” which is most frequently seen as client service. As I often share with young accountants, “You are in the service business, just like a waiter or housekeeper.”
Client Service – Maister uses a quote from someone at McKinsey, “Everyone realizes that the client relationship is paramount, not the specific project we happen to be working on at the moment.”
In summary, per Maister: the high-commitment, hard-working, mission-oriented, team-intensive characteristics of one-firm firms are reminiscent of another type of organization: the Marine Corps. Indeed, one-firm firms have an elite Marine Corps attitude about themselves. It is a feeling of, “we do things differently around here, and most of us couldn’t consider working anywhere else.”
Note Picture: Check out my copy of Managing The Professional Service Firm – about fifty sticky tabs, some post-its and many scribbles and highlights. If you haven’t read it, STUDIED IT, and your are part of a CPA firm, I urge you to do so.
If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell The Truth. If I got three more words, I'd add, all the time.
Friday, August 30th, 2013
Sageworks, maker of ProfitCents and the leader in the financial analysis of privately held companies, announced that as of August 19, it made its database of industry statistics on privately held companies available for free to all U.S. accounting firms.
As Sageworks reported in April, the company has aggregated over 1,000,000 private-company financial statements through more than 2,000,000 reports run by clients. The Sageworks database is the country’s largest warehouse of accurate, real-time private-company financial statement information.
Here is a link to the press release.
Visit their website where you can sign-up for free access.
There is no wealth like knowledge and no poverty like ignorance.
Monday, August 26th, 2013
I was recently reading about the advice Steve Jobs gave Larry Page, co-founder of Google, when he took on the role of CEO of Google in 2011. It comes from the book by Walter Isaacson.
“We talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby and being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.” – Steve Jobs
As a CPA firm owner/leader:
- What are you doing to keep your firm from getting flabby?
- Are you larded down with B players?
- Has your firm grown up? If so, has it turned out like you always wished it would?
- Are you a fairly new firm? What do you envision for your firm?
- Is your firm too scattered in it’s focus, trying to be all things to all people?
- Are you building a team of lieutenants you can count on (succession planning)?
- Are you adequate but not great?
Maybe you should use these questions as the agenda for your next partner retreat.
My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that's what I try to do.
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
I find all the stuff that Jeffrey Gitomer does (books, speeches, articles, newspaper columns, videos) motivating. He focuses on sales training but much of what he says applies to any business person (or human being for that matter).
Check out this post I did earlier this year featuring Gitomer talking about adding value. CPAs talk about “value added” all the time but can they describe what that really means?
Today I came across a video by Gitomer titled, Don’t Just Sell – Create Demand! It’s only 47 seconds long – watch it below.
He talks about John Patterson, the founder of National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio. I live in Dayton so it caught my attention. Patterson created a demand for the cash register, watch the video to find out how.
How about you and your CPA firm, are you creating a demand for your services?
You don't earn loyalty in a day; you earn loyalty day by day.
Thursday, August 1st, 2013
Yesterday I was reading an article via Fast Company titled, Want To Conquer A New Skill? Do It Every Day.
Did you ever think about how you became a great accountant (CPA)? You practiced, every day. You did taxes over and over again. You did auditing and accounting over and over again. You did accounting work every day. Fact is, even if you have been an accountant for decades, you are doing accounting work every day. Thus, quantity improves quality.
Often in public accounting firms, you shield your staff and even some of your partners from taking part in rehearsals for marketing, networking and selling. Managers often say they weren’t told that they had to bring in business to become a partner until they reached manager level.
Practicing to become a rainmaker should begin as soon as a new entry-level person enters your CPA firm. Just as accountants do a huge quantity of accounting and tax work to become a skilled CPA, they should be doing marketing things to become a great marketer.
Don’t shield your people from marketing activities – push them on stage to rehearse. Partners should take staff along to every possible networking event, make writing articles part of their on-going professional development, train them in responding to client questions and being more proactive in keeping in contact with clients.
If you are an accountant and feel like you might struggle in talking to strangers at a business reception – attend more business receptions and talk to more people.
I like a phrase used in the article: Try fast, fail fast, learn fast.
Or, as your mother used to tell you: Practice makes perfect!
An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.