Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Systems Are Driven By Culture

I talk a lot about processes and procedures, some people call them protocols; some call them systems. They are the guidelines established (after much research and discussion) inside your firm to efficiently get the work out the door.

Perhaps your systems are outdated or even ignored. They are very important. However, there is something much more important that drives the systems inside your CPA firm – it’s culture. I put it bluntly when talking with CPAs in public practice – – If your culture supports partners, or others, being exempt from following systems, to hide from change, to live in the days of “this is the  way we have always done it!”, no amount of excellent systems will help you serve your clients (and your people) effectively. Your competition will leave you behind.

Tom Peters says: Forget the words culture, vision, stories, narratives. Skip the pseudo-technical language. Don’t call consultants or coaches. How about plain-vanilla-insanely-important-self-managed-Give-a-Shitism? Give-a-shit… about each other, about the work, about the community.

Have the leaders and followers inside your firm slipped into the dangerous rut of getting the work out the door and thinking that good is good enough? Have some lost site of a culture of urgency to serve the clients better than any other accounting firm?

One of the two core values instilled by Dr. William Mayo (Mayo Clinic) in 1910 was, effectively practicing team medicine. Designing the practice around the patient, or “patient-centered care,” as some call its rare manifestation today, was the other core value. At Mayo, upon occasion prominent M.D.s have been asked to leave because of their inability to fully grasp the team-practice concept.

If you have partners at your CPA firm who are never “on board,” who hide behind “Devil’s Advocate,” do you ask them to leave? Or, does the firm slowly sink into mediocrity?

  • In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. Pick a general direction and implement like hell.
  • Jack Welch

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 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

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

All Things To All People

A lot of CPA firms have now become more specialized. They have determined that if they are specialized and are actually experts in a certain niche, they will become well-known and more successful.

I believe that the majority of CPA firms continue to be generalists. I have even heard CPA partners joke about the fact that if, for example, an auto dealership inquires about their services and asks “Do you specialize in dealerships?” they can say, “Yes, we do.” because they have ONE dealership on the client list.

There are still a significant number of accounting firms that try to be all things to all people. Consider this from a post by Seth Godin:

“The chances that everyone is going to applaud you, never mind even become aware you exist, are virtually nil. Most brands and organizations and individuals that fail fall into the chasm of trying to be all things in order to please everyone, and end up reaching no one.”

 

  • You can either fit in or stand out. Not both.
  • Seth Godin

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Helping Your Clients Succeed

CPA firms have all kinds of reasons why they are in the professional service business. We call it a mission, a vision, a purpose and some firm leaders spend a whole lot of time trying to define it with fancy words and catchy phrases.

I like to simplify, so I just refer to your mission in three words: Help clients succeed.

Helping clients is so much more than preparing an annual tax return or performing the annual audit. It is even more than helping them keep their books clean and up-to-date.

You, as a CPA, have a huge challenge – you sell something that no one wants!  Who simply can’t wait to get their taxes prepared or what company loves it when the auditors come in?

What they do want is more of you…. more advice, a sounding-board, an idea person… someone they can go to when they have a question.

Are you proactive? Are you reading what they are reading? Do you know what trends “out there” you should be informing them about? Do you send them links to great articles that they should read?

Here’s a simple example… I recently became aware of a site that helps small business owners find the right software – FitSmallBusiness.com. The have free calculators, such as an SBA Loan Calculator, that you can embed or share with your clients.

Always be searching for ways you can Help Clients Succeed.

 

  • Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You'd be amazed how many companies don't listen to their customers.
  • Ross Perot

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Do You Have What It Takes?

Accountants, for the most part, are not known for the expert selling skills. Most have not worked at honing those skills like a professional sales person has. You have a good excuse….. you did not go into accounting to be a sales person.

If you are in PUBLIC accounting, you are wrong. You provide business owners and individuals with professional services. In the good old days, CPA practitioners just “hung out a shingle” and waited. Not sure if you have noticed but our world is no longer a world where it pays off to wait.

So the next time you are facing that meeting with a potential client, do not allow that nervous fear to build-up inside you. You begin feeling that you are not good enough. They will see right through you. Your competitors are “smoother” and more convincing. Many CPAs have felt this way. You might even feel this way when you are talking to current clients. You hesitate to offer them more services. They won’t want to pay you more money. They don’t see the value and you don’t convey it very well.

You are wrong. You DO have what it takes. You DO provide value. Consider the specialized knowledge you have spent years developing and the amazing experiences you have had helping clients face financial challenges.

You have what it takes and you are worth it. Just do your best.

This post was inspired by a newsletter from Chris Brogan.

 

  • You owe the universe a lot more than you have delivered so far.
  • Chris Brogan

Friday, December 26th, 2014

How Much Are You Using Your Voicemail?

I posted something last year about the decline of voicemail. When I mention this during some of my presentations to accountants in public practice, they gasp.

Many accountants (and their clients) still live by leaving a voice message and then playing phone-tag for a couple of days. Many accountants instruct their Director of First Impressions to “put them into my voice mail”. I contend that it is often a way for some accountants to avoid talking with clients and others.

Recently, Coca-Cola’s office voice mail at the headquarters in Atlanta was disconnected. Put out to pasture, so to speak. An internal memo said that it was shut down “to simplify the way we work and increase productivity”.

Times have changed. Most people under 35 (even 40) rarely use voice mail.

I don’t expect CPA firms to quickly shut-down their voice mail systems but I do expect all of you to begin frequently using the new ways of communicating, such as texting. I know many experienced, mature CPAs who are using texts extensively.

 

 

  • For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.
  • Johnny Carson

Friday, December 12th, 2014

AccountingWEB Live – Shocking Comment From An Accountant

Twitter_logo_blueOn Thursday December 11th, AccountingWEB hosted an event – AccountingWEB Live 2014.

Simply following the tweets and reviewing them this morning, gave me great insight and value. I say that because I want to once again stress to all CPAs, accountants and other leaders inside accounting firms – the value of Twitter.

At most of my live presentations, where I have many CPA firm leaders in the room, I ask, “How many of you are on Twitter?” Very, very few hands go up!!

One live comment from yesterday’s AccountingWEB Live was shocking:  “I’m an accountant, I don’t need to tweet anything.”  Oh, my….

Today, but tomorrow at the latest, set up a Twitter account and just READ. That’s how you begin. Follow a few people (like me @cpamanagement) and others who provide advice, education, news and even humor to the accounting profession. All the major CPA publications tweet, the AICPA tweets, your state society tweets, national and local news sources tweet. I use it to get all my news, each morning, in a quick and simple format.

Find other CPAs who are tweeting and see how they are using it to not only advise clients but to attract more.

Here’s a link to How To Set Up A Twitter Account - a few simple steps.

When you do begin tweeting, tweet meaningful stuff. The following quote is good advice.

  • I will count to ten before tweeting.
  • Valerie Trierweiler

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Make It Easy For Your Clients – Starbucks Does

I just read where Starbucks is going to make it even easier to get your coffee. They will be unveiling a newly updated Starbucks mobile app that allows you to buy coffee without standing in line to order or handing a cashier your phone to pay. A pilot program has been launched in Portland, Oregon to test it out.

Per an article on Fast Company, you will walk into Starbucks, past the line, tell the barista your name, and she hands you your tall latte with skim.

How easy is it for your clients to do business with you? Be honest and think about it.

Your quick answer would be, “we are definitely a client friendly firm, we bend over backwards for our clients.”

Here’s my observations:

A partner gets a phone call from a client via the office number. Director of First Impressions says to partner, “John Adams is on the line for you.” Partner is talking with a manager and says, “Tell him I’m on the phone and will call him back.”

Collection administrator talks with a client about a past-due invoice. Client says, “I need to talk to Tom (partner) about that invoice. Have him call me.” Collection administrator lets Tom know that Sam Client wants to talk to him about the past-due invoice. The next month, the Collection Administrator again calls the client and learns that Tom never did call the client. This goes on for several cycles.

Manager gets a call via mobile device and see that it is Ted Client who can be somewhat difficult. They do not answer the call, they let it go to voice mail because they know Ted is going to ask when he will get his tax return and it not out of review yet.

Director of First Impressions tells me, “Most of our accountants never answer their phone extension when it rings, they always let it go to voice mail.”

While no disservice is intended, CPAs often fall into these habits thinking they are possibly saving time. We have become accustomed to the convenience of voice mail. Is that client service?

When I make an unscheduled call to a CPA, even if it is returning their call, I rarely get through on the first try. If the person actually answers, I’m rather shocked.

A pet peeve for me – Do not have the person answering your office main line ask, “May I tell her who is calling?” It immediately tells the caller they might or might not be important enough to get through to the person they are calling.  It really fries me when they ask what I am calling about. Here are the phone greeting skills many of us learned at Accountants’ Bootcamp years ago.

 

  • If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we'll turn out all right.
  • Jeff Bezos

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Yes, You Can Manage Your Clients!

Preventive Medicine AvatarYes, clients can be trained. I know that you are thinking that the client is king/queen and whatever they want you need to provide, referring to it as QCS (quality client service).

Yet, firms that learn to manage and train their clients are not only able to attract more clients, they are able to create a culture where talented people will stay and build their careers.

Of course, talented people staying at your firm is the answer to the succession problem that continually gets so much attention.

Clients that drive your staff crazy (you all have them) should go. Immediately, partners say to me, “They pay us $100,000 per year!” It seems that many CPAs don’t really think that assisting difficult clients is an issue of client service, they look at it more honestly as I just mentioned…”they pay us a lot of money!”

I’ve known and talked extensively with many CPA partners over the years and here’s my assessment of what they are truly THINKING but not saying out loud to their partners: “Yes, we need to out-place a few very difficult and challenging clients… but those are NOT MY clients.”

Here’s what to do. Meet with your partners and identify the clients that give you headaches and heartburn; the ones that continually frustrate your team members. (I have a form I share for identifying that type of client.)

You have probably already done that… several times. But, that where it stalls – partner do not take action. This time take the next step. Set-up a meeting with those clients and have an honest conversation with them about what you and your firm expects from them in the future.

Try using a commitment statement – – identify the things you (your firm) will do and also define the things you expect from them, the client. (I also have a sample of this that you can use.)

After you have the face-to-face conversation with the client and discuss your expectations, if they are not willing to comply – let them go. Better yet, help them go.

Why not simply say, “We have valued you as a client but we don’t seem to be a good match any longer. Let me help you find a CPA firm that would be a good match for you.”

Next, set-up an on-boarding system for clients that clearly defines your expectations and give them a timeline for submitting their information. Preventive medicine is the best.

Okay, you have out-placed a few difficult clients. Now, maybe your team members can work less extended hours this coming busy season.

  • Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.
  • James Cash Penney

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Accountants Should Embrace Technology

Headline from Thomson Reuters: Accountants should embrace technology.

What a statement! Sad to learn that so many have really not. The following is from a Thomson Reuters executive at their recent users’ conference:

“Many accounting firms still favor dated and inefficient ways of doing business, effectively trying to serve their clients in the same manner they always have, even though that world may no longer exist,” said Jon Baron, managing director of the Professional segment in the Tax & Accounting business of TR. He continued: “Overall client experience matters more today than it has before. It’s no longer enough to provide after-the-fact reporting and compliance work.”

The last sentence in the paragraph above is something I have been hearing for over 25 years!

A Thomson Reuters recent survey of accounting firms found:

  • Nearly 40% reported no offering a firm website.
  • More than one-third are not leveraging a document management system.
  • Only 16% reported the use of cloud applications in the firm.
  • Almost three-fourths reported that the primary method of delivering completed tax returns to the client is a paper copy.

Read more in this article via CPA Practice Advisor.

  • Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.
  • Frank Zappa