Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

Monday, April 14th, 2014

April 14th – A Tale of Two Firms

The story inside some CPA firms today…..

  • It’s going to be a crazy-busy Monday.
  • Most of the partners and several team members worked both week-end days.
  • You have a lot of “loose ends” to tie-up so you can get the return or extension filed.
  • There are several clients you have to call and break the bad news that they owe more than they expected.
  • You are expecting two or three clients, the same ones every year, to drop off or email information and expect to get their return tomorrow. They will pay you for last year’s tax work when they give you this year’s info.
  • A partner says, “I only have 3 or 4 8879s to get signed.” The problem is that each partner and some managers are saying this and there are 8 partners and 6 managers in the firm.
  • The firm administrator will be asking the admin team to be prepared to stay late today and tomorrow.
  • Tomorrow, when the party begins around 4:00, the admin team will miss it because they will be swamped with last minute tasks.
  • Dinner will be served this evening and some partners and team members will be working late into the evening.

The story inside some CPA firms today….

  • It will be a relief to come in this Monday because you have worked hard and everything was finalized on Friday.
  • You communicated clearly and thoroughly with clients and they know what to expect.
  • Everything that needs to be extended is already extended because you have notified your clients, for years, that if they don’t have their complete information to you by April 7th, their return will be extended.
  • When a client is slow to pay for their individual tax work, the following year you ask for a retainer before you begin the work.
  • You actually close at noon on April 15th, or
  • For years, you have given your team members April 16th as a holiday (or the Friday after April 15th), and it’s their favorite holiday.
  • Your after-tax-season feedback survey will go out to your people on April 16.
  • Your admin team never misses your tax season party. You have outsiders plan the party so they don’t have to also handle that task.
  • Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
  • Alan Lakein

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Personal Productivity for CPAs

Over the years you have probably heard a multitude of suggestions on how to be more productive, avoid interruptions and provide quicker turnaround.

Think about this one:

Arrive early, say 7:00a or earlier.

Do not take any phone calls until 11:00a.

Return all phone calls without fail beginning at 11:00a.

How often are you called about a real emergency anyway?

Some firms have tried variations of this and some have succeeded. One variation is “quiet time” for the entire staff from 8:00 until 10:00 – no one talks to or interrupts anyone else and no calls are accepted. Then at 10:00 the communication begins, as usual.

I know you won’t be able to implement this one until next week (after 4/15). But think about it.

  • Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.
  • John Archibald Wheeler

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Comfort, Complacency And Status Quo

IMG_2387Experienced CPAs who have survived, long-term in public accounting work hard. However, they love the work, it’s not a penalty or a chore. They love their clients and helping them survive taxation and other financial challenges. They love helping clients build successful businesses that will provide for a comfortable retirement down the road.

After doing this for many years, they become a partner in a CPA firm and make a lot of money. They love the work and they make great money doing what they love. Life is good.

Sure, at times they do have people challenges… you know, employees and partners. Maybe even at home.

But, over the years they have become complacent. Often, almost unknowingly, they begin to strongly avoid change. They want to maintain the status quo. They are comfortable.

But…. what are they missing? What more could they do for their people, their clients and even their family?

If this sounds anything at all like you, here’s the question – - Are you comfortable or are you stuck?

  • One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.
  • Voltaire

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – CPAs & Billing Time

A friend sent me a link to this video. She works in the legal profession and the video is focused on attorneys. However, I think CPAs will definitely relate.

It’s well done and it sure made me smile. What we do about the huge topic of billable time in the CPA profession is for another day.  This weekend, it’s just time to smile.

  • The most profound choice in life is to either accept things as they exist or to accept the responsibility for changing them.
  • From The Universal Traveler by Don Koberg & Jim Bagnall

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Getting CPA Partners and The Admin Team On The Same Page

photoCPA firms are dynamic, fast-moving, high-productivity workplaces. That’s the fun part.

Often, various factions inside the firm have misunderstandings. For example, the CPAs think the IT people are weird AND, vice-versa. Partners think the admin team could spend their time more productively AND, vice-versa! These nagging issues are the not-so-fun part.

The situations above are just a couple of examples of typical workplace challenges inside an accounting firm.

I have a hand-out I share that could possibly alleviate some of the classic misunderstandings between the professional administrative team and the partners they serve. It’s called a Commitment Statement for Assistant and Partner.

Here’s how I describe it:

About this sample:  Administrative assistants in a CPA firm must work for multiple partners. However, I recommend each partner have a specific assistant they go to when they want or need something out of the routine workflow. One administrative assistant can be assigned to two, three or four partners. This assignment is just for miscellaneous duties (NOT personal errands). When the admin assistant and the partner work together for a while the admin assistant can absorb admin work the partner should not be doing. One year, as the result of an administrative team retreat, one team I worked with took on the project of an Assistant and Partner Commitment Statement – things that they owed each other. They found it really helped communication and set some much needed expectations.  It was an enjoyable exercise for both sides.

Each side came up with about 20 bullet points, as commitments. Some examples this group came up with:

I, as partner, commit to: 

  • Giving you all the information needed to answer questions and handle problems.
  • Telling you where I can be reached and when I will return, when not in the office.
  • Working with you to establish a plan for controlling calls and drop-in visitors.

I, as your assistant, commit to:

  • Working hard to always make you look good.
  • Getting to know the clients you serve and help them in any way I can on your behalf.
  • Take the initiative. I won’t wait to be told to do a job. I will handle problems and learn which ones should be referred to you or a supervisor.

Just having each admin person talking with each partner they serve to come up with the commitments is a great exercise in communication.

If you want a copy of the complete sample fill-out the contact form on my website and put Assistant/Partner Commitment Statement in the “Other” box – or, just email me.

  • Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.
  • Peter F. Drucker

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Don’t Forget – You Are In The Service Business

CPAs are indeed busy. This time of year for sure and for most public accounting firms being busy does not end with April 15th. It is a client service business and clients need attention all year long.

A topic I have covered several times comes to mind this time of year….. your out-of-office email message or voice mail message.

So, your voice mail tells your client – -  ”It’s Monday, February 10th and I’ll be out of the office attending a Chamber meeting until 1:00pm.” Who cares? The client doesn’t care what you are doing or where you are. They called to talk to you.

They would rather hear: “This is John. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you quickly.” Also, remember phone calls and checking voice mail is a dying activity. The new breed of client wants you to text them.

Now for out-of-office email messages. Have you ever received the one that says, “I’m out of the office until Monday, February 10th.” – - and it is Wednesday February 12th when you receive it?

As a recent post on Fast Company states, “You can check your email anywhere in the world on your mobile phone or, at least, on an iPad, laptop or other tablet device. If you can’t, then I’m not sure you are sufficiently up with technology or up to the task of taking care of my business in a timely and professional manner.”

Check out the article, 9 Signs You’re In Out-Of-Office Hell, for some tips.

  • Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Phone Calls – Put Yourself In The Place Of A Prospect

Some of you might remember attending Accountants’ Bootcamp many years ago and learning many client service methods via Paul Dunn.

One thing that I remember and one thing that we immediately implemented at our firm was the practice of NOT interrogating people who called our firm. We stopped having the person who answered our main line always ask, “May I ask who is calling?”

These days many callers use your direct dial number or your mobile number. That’s a good thing. However, if you have clients and prospects calling your main number, please don’t have your director of first impressions give them the third degree!

What you are saying (what the caller is thinking) is “Are you important enough for me to put this call through to one of our partners or staff?”

For many years, I thought that asking who is calling was the proper thing to do. As our firm embraced the “not asking” method, it became so much more comfortable and made our firm seem so much more approachable.

Now when I call CPA firms (and I do it often), I just cringe when I get the third degree… May I ask who is calling?  What is this about? It happened yesterday. Just to clarify, I do call many firms that do not ask, they put me right through to the person I ask for.

Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client – - don’t make them feel like you are important and they are not.

I did a blog post in 2012 that goes into more detail and gives you suggestions – check it out.

  • We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Friday, January 31st, 2014

You Are The Top Dog CPA Firm In Your Market. So What?

Maybe you are not the absolute top dog but you have worked very hard at establishing your reputation and brand over many years.

In CPA circles we talk about making it to the famous “one of three” list. You know what that is, right? It’s the names of three CPA firms the bankers and attorneys recommend to their customers.

So, what happens if you feel like you “have made it” and you gradually let down your guard? Someone else will quickly take the spotlight.

A story from Fast Company about TWC (The Weather Channel) might teach us something.

TWC has freshly redesigned offices at their headquarters in Atlanta. It is an open floor plan with no cubicles in sight. 20-somethings huddle around whiteboards and there is a Foosball table. TWC says the young vibe helps with recruiting and morale. The goal is to be collaborative, like a start-up says the company president of the digital division.

The redesign comes at a critical time. TWC is being challenged by upstarts.

While their mobile app is by far the most popular, Dark Sky, SkyMotion and WeatherSphere are beginning to eat away at TWC’s dominance.

TWC’s challengers are offering things quicker and more specific to the individual and the TWC digital division leader notes, “The Weather Channel is perceived as the 800-pound gorilla in the room. We’ve allowed some of those apps to occur. We haven’t defended our space as well as I would like.”

As a CPA firm leader, you can learn from The Weather Channel story – read it here.

Even if you are one of the three firms on The List, have you let your guard down? Have your partners become complacent and continue to do what they have always done? It’s time for many CPA firms to look over their shoulder. Just like TWC, younger, different, dynamic, proactive competitors will chip away at your prominence.

It’s time to defend your space!

  • Defense is a definite part of the game, and a great part of defense is learning to play it without fouling.
  • John Wooden

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Hit The Pause Button

photoWe’re still uncool at our house. We have three remotes to control our TV, BlueRay, sound system, Apple TV, etc. Our son comes to visit and asks why we don’t get the cool new type of control he has so he can do it all from one or why don’t we use our iPad or iPhone. We’ve been there… then you buy a new TV and start over! We’ll get there again. However, one button I know for sure is the Pause button.

I need a break, I need to think, the phone rings, someone’s at the door – I hit Pause.

If you are working inside a CPA firm you are entering one of the most challenging times of the year. It’s rush, rush, rush. When will that job be done? How much billable time did you have last week? Call so-and-so and have them hurry up and get their information to us.

Maria Shriver gave a commencement speech in 2012 to her daughter’s graduating class titled The Power Of The Pause – The importance of stopping and evaluating where you are in life. How often have you done that?

Shriver noted, “So remember to pause and reflect before you sign on with someone or some organization whose work you don’t admire and respect. Who you work for is as important as what you do.”

As a CPA firm leader, are you admired by your people? Are you pausing to explain the importance of the work you do? Are you sharing the success stories of your business clients and how an accountant’s role is to serve others and help them become successful? Are you encouraging your valuable people to pause once in a while to reflect on their work, their life, and their family?

You and everyone else at your firm have hectic, busy lives. People get tired, worn-down and lose sight of the positives. For yourself, remember to pause and reflect often. Am I truly happy in my work? Do I trust and admire my partners? Do I value my employees? Am I always honest with my team members? Am I always honest with my family?

Am I happy?

  • It's like what we're doing at this precise moment doesn't even exist. Everyone is focused on the next thing. Everyone is racing to the next thing.
  • Maria Shriver

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Everyone Is Part Of The Sales Force

Perhaps you have heard the stories from some of your friends in public accounting who are working at another firm. Maybe it applies to your own firm. I know I hear it often in my consulting role….

“We have 8 partners but we only have 2 rainmakers. I don’t know what we will do when they retire!”

If this hits too close to home, start tomorrow enlisting your entire workforce to become part of your sales force.

How do you do this, especially in public accounting? Here’s four suggestions:

  1. Don’t wait and surprise long-time employees, that in order to be a partner they have to bring in business.
  2. Introduce every new hire, experienced or college recruit, to the firm’s marketing activities and programs. 
  3. Involve every employee in building the firm’s reputation and brand – that’s the best marketing you can do and there is a role for every person in your firm.
  4. Show your appreciation to your employees. If your people are happy in their role and with your firm, if they feel appreciated, they will become a sales force on their own. They will talk to others about the great place they work and all of the great things the firm does for them and for the firm’s clients.

If your people truly believe your firm can do a better job for a potential client than their current CPA, they will talk about it. It would sure feel good to have 50 rainmakers with potential to grow and enhance their skills than just having two who are aging-out.

  • The best way to find new business is to talk to old business.
  • Jeffrey Gitomer