Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category
Sunday, February 23rd, 2014
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
CPA 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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
We’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.
Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
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:
- Don’t wait and surprise long-time employees, that in order to be a partner they have to bring in business.
- Introduce every new hire, experienced or college recruit, to the firm’s marketing activities and programs.
- 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.
- 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.
Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
I think this is a great idea – host a special luncheon for bookkeeping professionals working for your clients. I know that several firms across the country host such an event and it is well received by clients.
Your firm and your people often have a stronger relationship with a client’s bookkeeper, controller or CFO than they do with the actual business owner. Enhancing that relationship not only benefits your firm it can also be of great value to the bookkeeper.
Here’s how it works. As year-end comes to a close or at the beginning of January, a CPA firm invites client financial professionals (bookkeepers, controllers, CFOs, office managers, etc.), whoever “keeps the books” to a special expanded luncheon or breakfast. It is not only a social event, it is also used to provide an educational update session on the typical year-end activities – changes in tax laws, closing out the books, dealing with the year-end payroll tax requirements, etc.
The event not only builds a stronger personal relationship with this important person in your client’s office, it assists with receiving the client’s year-end information in a more organized format. Simply informing the bookkeeper of your expectations and helping them achieve the proper format is a win for everyone.
In many firms this annual luncheon/breakfast meeting event has become tradition and is valued highly by the bookkeeping professionals.
I recently read a news article about C&D LLP hosting such an event. It was held at a nice facility (a guest ranch) and has been a tradition at the firm since 1994.
An added benefit is that they used it for public relations by sending a press release to the local newspaper.
Bookkeepers working for non-clients in their area are probably wondering why their CPA isn’t doing such an event…. and perhaps thinking…. maybe we better talk to C&D LLP.
A cardinal principle of Total Quality escapes too many managers; you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.
Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
CPAs working in public practice tell me all the time….. “We are different!” They go on to relate how they do this different and how they do that different. They truly believe they are different.
When I inquire as to exactly how they are different from their competitors most of them say, “It’s because of our client service.” They continue to describe how they are responsive, return phone calls quickly and are available to their clients.
They are reacting to client requests and questions. Notice I said REACTING. Most CPAs will honestly disclose, they are more reactive than PROACTIVE.
Here’s my personal story from a visit to a Ritz Carlton Hotel. Eddie, the bellman/valet guy (young, smiling gentleman), opened the door to my taxi and welcomed me inquiring as to my name. As he walked me to the registration desk he asked where I was from. When I said Dayton, Ohio he remarked, “I attended UD!” (University of Dayton). As we arrived at the desk he introduced the gentleman at the desk to me, “This is Ms. Keller, she’s ready to check-in.”
During my stay, at both hotel restaurants (lunch & dinner), so many people asked… Can I help you? May I be of assistance? Is there anything you need? At both restaurants they inquired, “Are you staying with us?” Last name? and then from that point forward everyone in the restaurant(s) called me by name, “Ms. Keller.” After dinner when I departed the restaurant a different maitre d’ was on duty and said, “Good night, Ms. Keller.”
People enjoy being called by name and they hate it if their name is mispronounced or mis-spelled. Have you every mis-spelled a client name on a email, letter, tax organizer or other paper mailing? It’s a huge faux pas! Even worse, has your firm ever mailed something to a deceased client? The relatives sure hate that one!
The Ritz Carlton has systems. They teach them and they practice them. The next day as I was leaving the hotel Eddie greeted me again and immediately said, “Did you enjoy your stay, Ms. Keller? Are you heading back to Dayton? Why don’t you use our car, it’s just slightly more than a taxi and much more comfortable?”
I couldn’t keep track of how many people (employees) asked me during my 30-hour visit if they could help me, assist me, do anything for me.
What’s it like at your firm? How often do you ask your clients if you can help them in any way? How often do your employees, during client interactions, use the client’s name and inquire if they can assist or if the client has any questions? Have you trained your people to introduce themselves to visitors waiting in the lobby, to simply be friendly?
Practice civility. See the quote below from the Dali Lama.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
Friday, December 20th, 2013
I have been working in the CPA profession for 35 years. The telephone has been the center of client communication. Notice I say “has been”. I am striving for “has been”!
Samples of various comments I have heard from CPA firm citizens:
- These young people don’t talk to each other, they want to just IM or text.
- Why don’t they just pick up the phone and call (fill-in the blank).
- The partners think we want to talk to them on the phone.
- People (employees AND clients) don’t listen to their voice messages any more.
While I do believe that sometimes it’s more efficient to just pick up the phone and call someone, it is often an interruption to them. What I also know for sure is that you rarely get a live answer to your phone call…. you just leave a message and hope they will call back. They usually respond by email.
I almost always use the phone by appointment only. I set specific dates and times for phone calls (or coaching sessions) with all my clients. I also set specific phone appointments with my business contacts, the media, or anyone inquiring about my services. That way we actually talk when the call is made and eliminate phone tag.
Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit. He is a very busy, young internet entrepreneur. He hates phone calls. I have to agree with him on many points.
“I hate phone calls so I believe in a telephone armistice. To me, the idea of calling someone unprompted is basically saying, ‘Hey, stop whatever you’re doing and talk to me right now.’ If you find yourself in the middle of something, getting an unprompted annoyance is incredibly frustrating. So I try to respect that. Unless it’s really an emergency, I’m not going to bother you.”
He also give the example of what I hear from CPAs all the time. “You’re in the same office and instant-message each other? Why don’t you just walk over?” – - That is an example of how ingrained the status quo is. To certain people, it may seem lazy, but it is actually more efficient and considerate.
Yes, I know this is a big change in mindset for many CPAs – it’s a big leap. All I ask is that you contemplate the topic and maybe experiment. An expanded version of this blog post will be in my December newsletter next week. Subscribe here.
I'd rather sit down and write a letter than call someone up. I hate phone calls.