Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Sacred Cows

Sacred Cow – definition:

One that is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. Someone or something that has been accepted or respected for a long time and that people are afraid or unwilling to criticize or question.

If you are involved in merger discussions and are acquiring a firm, be sure to ask: What are your sacred cows?

When leaders of a firm want to be “merged-in” they might shy away from talking about their sacred cows until after the deal is done. Too late. The firm that is acquiring cannot facilitate the transition if they are not aware of the sacred cows.

cowWhat I usually observe is that it is a long-time employee who cannot be terminated. CPAs are kind and loyal. They keep some long-time employees just because “she has been with the firm for 25 years, even though she hasn’t adapted to our technology” or “he’s a partner, even though his performance hasn’t been up to par for many, many years.”

Sometimes it is tax software. “We will not change our tax package.” Period.

Remember, you are running a business. Why wouldn’t you negotiate a nice departure package and hire someone at half the salary who loves technology? Why wouldn’t you negotiate a retirement timeline and make departure easy?

As for technology and software, the entire firm should be using the exact same software and following the exact same procedures. That way any team member can work for any partner or office at any given time via remote connectivity. The same goes for basic office procedures. Of course, offices have some minor nuances and personality differences but the work gets done the same way and to meet firm-wide quality standards.

  • I don't want any vegetables thank you. I paid for the cow to eat them for me.
  • Douglas Coupland

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Conversations That Move The Firm Forward

I think I am fairly safe in saying that inside every accounting firm there is a naysayer. Maybe more than one! They always seem to see the glass half empty.

In progressive, successful firms you will find people having conversations about the firm that are positive, conversations that move the firm forward.

When someone whines and says, “Nothing good is happening here,” someone else will often say, “Oh, what about the additional holiday they added last year?” or “Didn’t you just get assigned to one of the firm’s top five clients?” Negativity is discouraged. And, if something truly negative is happening, management deals with it immediately.

Often, negative conversations (even less than tasteful jokes) about some of the firm’s clients frequently occur. Be realistic, do some of your clients need to go elsewhere?

In firms that get it, you will find people who are keeping the vision alive. The vision lives in the conversations inside the firm. These positive conversations about the firm and the firm’s clients will help the firm grow and prosper.

Here’s an action step for you: Identify STRENGTHS of your firm and remember to speak up for them.

  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • Winston Churchill

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Practice Patience

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I do a lot of survey work for accounting firms. One of the most common topics, among team members from all sizes of firms and from all areas of the country, is the fact that many partners drop things on them at the last minute and almost pace the floor behind them as they scramble to meet the partner’s expectations. At the same time another partner is impatiently waiting on his “hot” project.

Side note: One year at my firm the staff fashioned a construction paper flame with a base that allowed it to stand up. They would pass it around and sit it on top of the stack of files that was “hot”. With amusement, they even assigned categories of hot: Warm, Hot and On Fire. Yes, they poked fun at partners.

That was years ago and now it feels like impatience dominates our entire life. Have you ever walked down the hall to get coffee, met a co-worker and they ask, “Did you read my email?” “No, when did you send it?” – Answer: “Five minutes ago!”

My wish is to see accounting firms develop a culture that has, somewhere in its foundation, the practice of, and rewarding of, patience. It can be achieved by better planning and time management. And, by clearly setting expectations for the client.

It’s enough that we get impatient by waiting 30 seconds on the microwave or 5 seconds for a site to load. Our society has become one of instant gratification and partners are no exception. Keep in mind when you demand quick turnaround from an employee, there just might be two other things on their plate that need quick turnaround.

Chill, take a deep breath and investigate ways to practice more patience inside your firm. I think Keep Calm And Carry On applies here.

  • Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.
  • Guy Kawasaki

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Doing A Client Survey? Keep Calm & Carry On

Most progressive firms do client feedback surveys on a regular basis. Most firms, over all, do not. I don’t think you should do one every year but using a 3-year cycle makes sense.

If you ask too often, clients seem to find it a chore. Usually, your best clients will give you glowing remarks and you will always receive a response from those clients that have an issue – which is what you want to fish out.

When I talk to firm leaders about a client survey, it often takes them a long time to decide if they will do it and how they will do it. Often it becomes a major discussion topic among the partners and they worry about which clients they should include and which ones they should not. They fret about “what could possibly happen” way too much.

Keep it simple. Don’t worry so much. Just do it.

Have each partner select their “top” clients – whether they are easy to serve or difficult to serve. Most firms judge “top” by the amount of revenue the client (client group) brings to the firm.

Limit the number of top clients per partner to 20 or 30. If you have 10 partners that means 300 clients will be surveyed and should result in a good representation. Many partners only select around 20 and help urge those few to respond.

Again, don’t procrastinate and don’t worry about what replies you might uncover. I find that most clients have really honest and helpful feedback for the firm.

  • The most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
  • Bill Gates

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

How Do You Make Your Clients Say, “Wow!”?

Yesterday was my birthday. As usual, I opened up my browser and hit the Google site. There it was, the Google Doodle with birthday images. There was a cake with candles, cupcakes and other birthday goodies.

I thought to myself… “today must be some famous person’s birthday – the same day as mine.”

When I put the cursor over the image, guess what appeared?

“Happy Birthday Rita”

It made me smile and think Wow! Of course, I wondered how they did this.

The point I want to make to you, CPA firm leaders, is – do you think Google has more customers than you? Yes, certainly. Then why aren’t you doing something to make your clients think, “Wow!”?

Happy Birthday Rita



  • Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.
  • Robert Browning

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Developing a Humble Heart

Photo on 2-13-13 at 2.58 PMIt is my observation that most accounting firm partner and manager groups have members of a variety of personality types. Big picture, that’s a good thing. It allows for differing opinions and viewpoints.

Experts say that up until the sixties, in the American culture, humility was taught and encouraged. Then it seems, we switched to a much more intense focus on self-esteem. Self-confidence and assertiveness became the admired traits and has grown even stronger over the last decade. I bet you see it in your CPA firm.

You want to have strong-willed, aggressive leaders but don’t let them forget that humility aspect of leadership and setting a good example.

I believe that the vast majority of CPAs are naturally humble. That being said, I also believe that the ones who are more aggressive, even to the point of being a bully, make it to the top positions.

Humility is simply an attitude of service. The humble person looks for opportunities to be of service to others, even to the little things like holding a door open for others.

Just something to keep in mind as you mentor your future leaders. These thoughts were inspired by a newspaper column by John Rosemond, an expert on parenting.

  • Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes in life.
  • George Arliss

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

The Badge of Honor For Accountants – Busyness

I was recently reading about the leadership qualities of Pope Francis. One aspect is that he manages his time and energy and keeps a schedule that is healthy. He has even criticized other Catholic leaders for their busyness.

It is my observation that way too many CPA firm owners delight in demonstrating busyness. It’s almost like an addiction. They have numerous arguments for their demanding schedules: We don’t have enough people. We don’t have the right people. Our people don’t have the skills. The clients are too demanding. The clients force me into last-minuteness and so on.

If you are a skilled leader you fix these things. You focus on managing your business not remaining in the never-ending squirrel cage of busyness.

  • Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
  • Socrates

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Time To Phase Out Voicemail

I know that voicemail is an important part of most CPA’s lives. Clients leave a message and you call them back. You leave a message and they call you back. Often this loop goes on and on.

I have observed that many CPAs never answer their phone. They let the call go into voicemail so they can avoid the interruption. Is that really client service?

I have blogged about the decline in voicemail at least a couple of times. Studies tell us that most people under 40 do not use voicemail. How about your clients?

Countless things become outdated every decade and it looks like voicemail is one of them. Here’s some things to consider from a blog post on yestrak:

No one leaves messages anymore. – Forbes reports that 80% of callers hang up on voicemail.

Customers don’t want to wait. – InsideSales reports that 35-50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds first.

Machines are frustrating. – American Express reports that 67% of customers have hung up the phone out of frustration that they could not talk to a real person.

Phones are now smart, you voicemail isn’t. – According to Pew Research Center, two-thirds of the American population now owns a smart phone.

Voicemail is not part of a rapid-response cycle. – The New York Times reports that 30% of messages don’t get checked for at least three days and 20% never check messages.

Be thinking about how your growing firm will serve clients without voicemail.  Read the entire blog post on yestrak for more details.

  • I should just change my voicemail greeting to: Please hang up and text me, thanks.
  • Unknown

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

What Works For You… Not Everyone Else.

I was reading an article on Fast Company about how Uber approached their markets differently. What would work in NYC wouldn’t necessarily appeal to someone in Seattle or Washington, DC.

When you are branding your firm, serving your clients and hiring talented people, are you trying to do it like “a firm you know” in a completely different part of the country? Perhaps, it is even a very different size firm?

It’s not that any one firm is right and another wrong. You must know your market.

I get so many questions about starting salaries. It depends on where you are located.

What about what your clients like, why they come to you? A lot of it could depend on your geographical location.

Figure out what works for you and then do it.

  • Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
  • William Sprague

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Clients See Accountants As Reactive Rather Than Proactive

drewRead a good article by Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor on the JofA site: Competitive edge: The software vendors’ view.

For years we have been talking with practitioners about being proactive. Most tell us they are caught in the “reactive” trap because they are too busy to plan ahead. They are always putting out fires. Poor excuse.

Here’s an excerpt from the article.

Clients will be looking for help interpreting data and developing strategies for success—a view echoed in the most recent report by The Sleeter Group on what small and midsize businesses want from their CPAs, which found that the top reason clients leave their accounting firm is that it did not provide proactive advice. A recent poll of 393 small business leaders by hardware and software provider Wasp Barcode similarly showed that more than 4 in 10 complained that their accountants are more reactive than proactive.

  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
  • Carl Jung