Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

My Favorite Agreements

“First we will be best, then we will be first.” – – Unknown

Yesterday, I wrote about employment agreements and partner agreements. Neither are my favorite, however, I do have some favorite agreements – The Four Agreements.

fouragreementsThe Four Agreements is a book by Don Miguel Ruiz. I read this book years ago and still do my best to follow the agreements. I believe that these four simple statements can make a difference in the culture of your CPA firm. I hope you read this book this summer!


BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

  • There is nothing more likely to start disagreement among people or countries than an agreement.
  • E. B. White

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Employment Agreements

“Too much agreement kills a chat.” – Eldridge Cleaver

Oh, yes – that touchy topic – employment agreements and partner agreements. CPA firms are famous for having them. Usually, they are part of becoming a manager and for sure when you become a partner. Many firms even have staff accountants sign them.

To be quite honest, after working in public accounting for decades and having signed one myself years ago when I worked in a firm, I have always thought they were not very logical.

My view: If you are a “firm” the clients are clients of the firm and partners are just caretakers of the relationships. Clients really don’t “belong” to anyone – how can you control what a client chooses to do?

If a caretaker leaves the firm and clients also decide to leave the firm, that’s the “firm’s” fault for not strengthening the relationship beyond one particular person.

All of this came to mind because of a recent post by Seth Godin – All deals are handshake deals. I love the final line: “Start with a good agreement. But your future depends on doing agreements with good people.”

  • My people and I have come to an agreement which satisfied us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please.
  • Frederick the Great

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

New Clients Will Want Cloud Services

“It takes a very long time to become young.” – Pablo Picasso

I cringe when I hear it. The sad part is that now – summer of 2017 – I am still hearing it way too often from CPA firms around the country.

Are you paperless? Are you completely digital? Are you in the cloud? Are you using a portal?

Most of the answers I hear are…. “sort of,” “not really,” “we don’t trust the cloud,” and “we haven’t pushed it with our clients.”

A recent survey by Bill.com tells us that business owners under the age of 55 prefer their accountants to handle all or most of their accounting work digitally. 78% of those 39 and under want paper-free accounting.

I believe that people, in general, are becoming very accustomed to the digital world – from their personal banking transactions to entertainment.

It’s time to give up the excuse you have used for too many years… “our clients are older and they want things in paper.”

Read more about this survey via Accounting Today – Your Next Accounting Client Wants Paperless, Mobile Services by Mary Ellen Biery.

  • The whims of youth break all the rules.
  • Homer, The Iliad

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

No Email Day

“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” – Mike Krzyzewski

An article via Fast Company caught my eye recently: My Entire Company Avoids Email For One Full Day Every Quarter.

When you email somebody at LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing agency, there’s a one in five chance you’ll get this auto-response: “It’s no-email day at LaSalle Network! Today we’re embracing live communication and collaboration. I’m here, just not in my inbox . . . call me! I want to hear from you!”

For the past three years, the company has set aside one day a quarter to abstain from emailing, forcing everyone on staff to get up from their desks and go talk to one another—or at least to pick up the phone. “It’s easy to hide in your inbox, especially when there’s a client issue,” CEO Tom Gimbel concedes. But he’s found that “live collaboration allows us to be more creative. When talking through an issue, we’re faster at coming up with possible solutions and generating new ideas.”

Why couldn’t an accounting firm do this? Here’s how to experiment – what have you got to lose!

Declare a “no email day” for an entire weekday. Everyone is off email from 8:00a to 5:00p except for two 20 minute breaks to identify any REAL emergencies.

Everyone powers down their email and sets a notification – like the one above.

You must talk to people in person or on the phone.

Assess if it cuts down on miscommunications and actually causes more face-to-face dialogue and communication.

Might be a fun experiment this summer and maybe you will make it a habit.

As the business founder, Tom Gimbel, notes, “It’s not perfect. We’ve had people who do get upset or don’t understand why we do it, but overall it’s helping build camaraderie among employees. And most of our clients and vendors have been really supportive.”

 

  • The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication.
  • Malcolm Gladwell

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Yes, It’s July – But Be Thinking About November

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

An age-old challenge inside many accounting firms is the fact that the business client expects you to do their taxes from a very messy set of books.

I have observed that is usually the case when the business owner has a bookkeeper that is really not qualified (think wife, mother-in-law, sister – you know, someone you can’t fire).

Often, even a very qualified small business bookkeeper doesn’t really understand what your CPA firm needs and how/when you need it.

That’s why I suggest you hold a Bookkeeper/Controller Breakfast for your clients in late November. Invite all your client bookkeepers to the event and offer education along with breakfast and good conversation.

Make them feel special. Provide goodie bags with the firm trinkets (pens, pencils, firm logo post-it notes, candy, gum, maybe even a t-shirt). If you start at 8:00, they can be back in their office by 10:00.

The “program” can be very short and very informative. Explain to them the important role they play in making year-end an enjoyable and efficient experience for themselves (and the firm). It might even save their boss some accounting fees!

Many of them might not have a clue about the firm’s expectations. Plus, I have actually seen them learn some very helpful tips from each other.

  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
  • Albert Einstein

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Training Your Clients

SethGodin“Differentiate to succeed.” – Seth Godin

Love this post by Seth Godin:

Training customers

If you frequently run last-minute sales, don’t be surprised if your customers stop buying things in advance. You’re training them to wait.

If you announce things six or seven times, getting louder each time, don’t be surprised if your customers ignore the first few announcements. You’ve trained them to expect you’ll yell if it’s important.

If you don’t offer someone a raise until they find a new job and quit, don’t be surprised if your employees start looking for new jobs.

The way you engage with your customers (students/bosses/peers) trains them on what to expect from interactions with you.

Drip, drip, drip.

I have blogged several time about setting expectations for your clients, yes training them. For example, training them to submit their 1040 information ON TIME.

As Godin notes, if you continue to accept slow responses from your clients, they know you are okay with them being tardy. If you accept shoddy, poorly document “books” from clients, they realize that they don’t have to expend much effort before they deliver their year-end info to you…. and so on. (We all know the “shoe box” clients!)

The same thing applies to your team. Godin’s point about giving someone a raise once they announce they are quitting sounds awfully familiar to what I have observed in the CPA profession.

  • Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.
  • Seth Godin

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Thinking of Suing a Client For Fees? – Read This

“The payment for certain sins can be delayed. But they can’t be avoided.” – Shawn Ryan

IMG_3046I was recently talking with a client about pursuing litigation to collect outstanding fees. It is a difficult topic and something CPAs usually avoid, at all costs.

My good friend, Stephen Vono of NAPLIA (North American Professional Liability Insurance Agency) reminded me of an excellent article on the NAPLIA website titled, “Suits for Fees – ways to avoid them and their liability.”

He, and I, recommend taking steps to reduce the potential for unpaid fees in the first place. It is your best defense.

In the article, it notes that there are three basic billing practices which, when implemented regularly and effectively, can dramatically reduce the number of collection problems your office will face.

Retainers – Retainers should be used on small engagements and on large engagements.

Bill Frequently – Never hesitate to progress bill. A few smaller bills are much better than hitting the client with one huge bill at the end of the engagement.

Payment on Delivery – The preparation of tax returns is a natural for asking for payment upon delivery. I have found that most clients who are new to the firm, actually expect to pay upon delivery.

Follow the link above to read the entire article on the NAPLIA website. Also, take note of the many other wonderful resources on the website. I love the Engagement Letter resource.

  • The time to save is now. When a dog gets a bone, he doesn't go out and make a down payment on a bigger bone. He buries the one he's got.
  • Will Rogers

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Client Service – Incoming Phone Calls

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” – Clarence Thomas

It’s been a while since I have written about the importance of incoming phone calls. As you might expect, I often call Certified Public Accounting firms. How I am greeted tells me a lot about the firm, the partners and the Director of First Impressions.

The DOFI’s job is to make people feel welcome, not to make them feel like they are interrupting them from something more important.

I urge you not to interrogate your callers. The first thing that enters your client’s (or prospective client’s) mind is, “When I tell them who I am it helps them decide if I am important enough for XXX to take my call.”

I urge you not to have a completely automated phone greeting process. CPAs are in the service business. The CPA profession is a word of mouth business. Potential clients call you because they have been referred by a friend, attorney, banker or by someone else they rely upon for good advice. Don’t disappoint these important referral sources.

Do you have experienced team members designated to receive potential new client calls when the caller does not have a specific name to ask for? Most firms have a few tax managers who actually don’t mind taking these calls and handling them with professionalism, care and concern. Have you considered making your Marketing Director or Director of Practice Development part of this taking-cold-calls-team?

Be sure that your team members understand that sometimes the best calls with the most potential might come at a very busy time and the manager might be inclined to say “take a message” or let the call go into voice mail. The caller will probably seek professional services elsewhere.

So, you ask, “Why do I bother when most of these types of calls go no where?”

It is about brand, image and reputation in your community; about CPAs being the most trusted advisor. Besides, that caller asking about individual tax preparation might say, “I called Smith & Company about my taxes. CPAs are sure expensive but I was impressed, they treated me so nicely and gave me the name of a smaller firm who was a perfect fit for me.”

  • Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Strategic Plans and Fairy Tales

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” – Henry David Thoreau

I really enjoyed a recent post by Jeffrey Gitomer titled, Business Plans, Five-Year Spreadsheets, and other fairy tales.

How about your strategic plan? Have you looked at it recently? Have all your partners looked at it often over the last year and talked among themselves about how well you are doing with the plan? I bet not.

What about the business plans for a new niche inside your firm? You had a young partner anxious to specialize in business valuation, for example. You asked him to bring a business plan to the partner group for discussion and approval. The group like it, approved it and…. it hasn’t been looked at since. It hasn’t been monitored nor has it been followed. Perhaps, it was just a fairy tale!

I think you will enjoy Gitomer’s article. Much of it sounds familiar to those of you working in a CPA firm. He also includes some great suggestions.

  • Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Think About Quality

“The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary.” – Sam Walton

Many firms proclaim, “We provide quality client service.”

A recent post by Seth Godin caused me to think about quality service in a more critical light.

Is your firm simply meeting client expectations? Or, are you exceeding client expectations? Do dare go for service that is even higher?

socksYear ago at Accountants Bootcamp, we learned that the goal should be much more lofty than meeting expectations.

I you want to distinguish yourself from other accounting firms, aim high and aim to provide awesome client service – you might call it “Knock your socks off client service.”

  • Every great business is built on friendship.
  • J. C. Penney