Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

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

Monday, November 17th, 2014

What If You Gave Them A Choice

Studies tell us that the ability to choose what you work on, as well as how, when and where you perform your work is a growing priority for talented professionals across sectors and industries, and one of the core elements of a fulfilling career – via Harvard Business Review

What if, when scheduling your upcoming busy season work, you gave your people a voice in their assignments? You will probably need to experiment with it the first year and tweak it going forward… but simply ask them – What engagements did you enjoy the most last year? What engagements would you immediately pass along to someone else if given the opportunity? Use the data as you schedule.

What if, this busy season, since CPA professionals need to work some extended hours and often on Saturdays, you allowed them to work from home one entire day during the week?

Some companies are giving their people the perk of using 4 weeks per year (20 days) to work remotely (from home or where ever). What if your firm provided this perk for your experienced people?

Gather your leaders and discuss what other choices you could easily give your valuable team members. Never forget… it’s all about retaining top talent.

  • Be miserable. Or, motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it's always your choice.
  • Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Bring Clarity To The Role Of A Partner In A CPA Firm

In a recent newsletter from August Aquila of Aquila Global Advisors, August identified some of the things partners need to do to help the firm be successful.

There is a critical link between partner behavior and what the firm is trying to achieve. Here’s a list to give to all of your partners. Then discuss it and then do it.

Being a leader means partners must:

  • Make a personal economic contribution
  • Bring in new business
  • Bring the firm’s resources to their clients
  • Pass work to their colleagues
  • Develop their people’s capabilities
  • Persuade their people to join the partners on the journey and to play a part in building a better firm
  • Help their colleagues and, through them, the firm
  • Live the firm’s values all day, every day
  • Never be satisfied with second best
  • Be role models for high performance and judgment, the people members of the firm turn to for inspiration and help
  • Stand up and be counted

Read Aquila’s newsletter article here.

  • The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

QuickBooks Online & The CPA Firm

As I talk with CPA practitioners and their teams around the country, the minute QBO is mentioned (QuickBooks Online), the whining begins. I’m talking serious whining here!

I think you know by now, I am here to convey honesty and insight into the world of CPA firm management. I try to offer solutions and alternatives to every issue. That’s why I am addressing this QBO issue.

For years and years I have heard anguish and pain about the different “versions” of QB and how difficult it is to keep CPA firm clients on the most recent version of QB. Some firms report that they must keep a significant number of QB versions active on their servers just to serve the clients. Some firms have even adopted a policy to force all clients to stay current on versions.

All of that, of course, would be solved with an online version and the phasing out of all desktop versions. That is what Intuit is doing.

It doesn’t seem to be going so well, so far.  Users and practitioners are stirred-up and very negative. The most positive comment I have heard about QBO  is “Well, it has its limitations.”

Please note, I am not a user. I cannot do anything but communicate what I am hearing and reading and offer possible solutions.

As with most issues involving significant change, people (users) will get used to it. But, for now, this move to the cloud does not seem like an enjoyable experience.

Yesterday on AccountingWeb, Nate Stewart wrote, “Why QuickBooks’ Cloud Bet Matters To Everyone.” He notes that Intuit says, “QuickBooks Online is the future and it’s better to go with the tide than against it.”

Here’s a review by PC Magazine and it compares similar products.

When I read articles like these online, I always view the comments (I urge you to do the same). Sometimes they are very insightful. One comment seemed to be aligned with what I actually hear from CPA firm users, “With 15 years experience using Quickbooks both online and PC/MAC versions, I can honestly say avoid the online version like the plague.”

I’m sure it will get better, so be patient but I also recommend exploring options like Xero and others.

  • Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
  • A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Just Another Due Date

IMG_4340I guess you could call it the last major tax return due date of the year for certified public accountants.

Most business people are well aware that March 15th is the tax due date for corporate tax returns, April 15th is the due date for individual income tax returns. The filing of corporate returns can be extended until September 15 and individual returns until October 15. This creates a very busy time inside most CPA firms leading up to 3/15 and 4/15 and another (mini busy season) leading up to 9/15 and 10/15.

Working with and talking to CPAs across the country (and the people who work for them), I hear so much frustration and observe an immense amount of finger-pointing about why these due dates cause so much stress and unhappiness.

Yet, I find bright spots! I also hear (a very few) stories about Mary or John (partner in the firm) who never has to work so many extra hours as a due date approaches nor do they put excessive demands on the people who help them deliver client services.

What has Mary or John done differently than their other partners?

Simple. They trained their clients. 

I have seen it happen first-hand. It is possible.

  • It's easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better at the top.
  • Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Better Client Service

HostetlerDustinLeanCPA-1023It just makes sense to me that the more efficient you are, the better service you can provide your clients. However, it is sometimes difficult for CPAs to get past the mindset that the faster you complete the engagement services the bigger the chance of doing something wrong.

Dustin Hostetler, the founder of Flowtivity and the lead consultant for Lean4CPAs by Flowtivity is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm and has taken proven Lean techniques from the manufacturing floor and tailored them to bring value to public accounting firms.  Hostetler thoroughly addresses the issue of delivering better client service in a recent blog post and I wanted to share his remarks with all of you.

He notes two misconceptions about process improvement initiatives:

# 1 – You can’t be more efficient without negatively impacting quality

#2 – By undertaking a process improvement initiative, we could negatively be impacting our client service.

He explains client satisfaction via three different customer services “curves.” They are, Basic, Performance and Delighter services.

Read more about it here.

 

  • 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

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Are You Still Waiting To Be Paid For Work You Did in March?

Most of what I write about is based on real-life observation. This is one of those topics.

New clients, at many CPA firms, are accepted without a very specific conversation about fees. It seems the CPA partners (the people responsible for those upfront conversations) are afraid. CPAs afraid? Yes, definitely.

  • Afraid of scaring the prospective client off
  • Afraid the potential client won’t grasp the value of the services
  • Afraid of not being able to explain exactly why the services are so vital (and expensive)
  • Afraid of confrontation

Some of this fear is based upon the fact that CPAs are humble and quite often don’t even perceive the value of their knowledge and expertise. Comments like, “I can’t bill the client for that, it only took a few minutes.” Or, “I’m not sending an invoice for that advice, I knew the answer right away.”

I believe the upfront conversation could eliminate so many uncomfortable moments later on. As you work with clients it is very important to develop and practice “fee talk” skills as you advance in your accounting career..

A blog post that my friend and CPA consultant, Steve Erickson, did a few years back is still very helpful. It is right on target for what I witnessed over many years inside my firm. Here are the points about talking to your clients about fees:

Stop quoting fee ranges – This is a very common practice. CPAs will tell the client that their annual work will cost between $8,000 and $10,000. The client immediately thinks and expects $8,000 and the CPA is actually thinking $10,000 (or more).

Initiate the conversation about fees with all your clients – Provide a general letter about fees and share the Firm Credit Policy. I recommend a general “welcome” letter to new clients from the firm administrator or the CEO that includes a copy of the firm credit policy.

Negotiate the scope of work not your fees – If a client wants to pay less, explain the services you can provide for that amount – negotiate and provide examples of what many clients do that increase the fees (messy records, lack of response, etc.)

Stop extending excessive credit – get retainers (you won’t have to wait until August or later to get paid for work you did in March).

Call before sending an unexpected bill – I have seen partners shy away from a phone call that could save headaches down the road. If the work is expanding, stop and call the client before you have your staff proceed with the work.

Perhaps a better answer is to move to value pricing where you have the upfront conversation every year. Read my blog post about Pricing On Purpose.

  • There is no victory at bargain basement prices.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower