Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

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

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Marketing To Your Core Audience

Accounting firms are notorious for seeking out new clients by writing articles, advertising in the business newspaper, using some direct mail and networking at local events so they can meet new people (prospects). Often their social media campaigns are designed to target and engage the non-client, new client, potential client.

SethGodinSeth Godin uses the example of Broadway. They spend so much money to attract tourists and those who rarely see a play, yet it is clear that the people who go to the theater regularly are often the ones who fill the seats, pay the bills and spread the word.

Spending money, time and effort on people who already like you is much more productive and profitable than “yelling” at people who don’t know you.

This is not a NEW message to CPAs trying to grow their practice. It is one of those BFO  topics (Blinding Flash of the Obvious) that all of the CPA management consultants stress with firm leaders – - it is nothing new, it is basic.

Focus on your current clients. Provide them with more services. Provide them with awesome client service. Talk, talk, talk to them about other things you can offer them and how you can help THEM grow their own business.

As Godin states: “This one shift, a shift to building relationships between and among the core audience, to make plays for your audience instead of finding an audience for your plays, is the golden lesson that applies to just about every organization.”

 

  • Don't try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody.
  • Seth Godin

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Summer Fridays For CPA Firms

closedSince it is Monday, I thought I would talk about Fridays. This coming Friday are you going to be in the office for 8 hours? Are you going to be in the office for 4 hours or not at all?

I am finding many firms doing many things with Fridays. Some are closed but, of course, clients can reach their key person via mobile device. Some firms work half-days on Fridays and tell me that clients don’t seem to mind at all because they often take that day off, too or work very little on Fridays.

I know, first hand, that when I was working in a large CPA firm, the activity was minimal on Fridays, although we were never closed. Most partners left at noon, managers and others used PTO to take a half day off. The “flexers” usually did not include Fridays, in the summer, in their work schedules.

Have you been pondering this possibility for several years?  Below are some resources that might help you make-up your mind:

Check-out the website of my good friends at Payne Nickles. Look at the lower left where it indicates hours are Monday to Friday 8:00 to 5:00 AND Friday Closed at Noon Memorial Day thru Labor Day.

More good friends, the Friedman firm headquartered in Manhattan, ranked highly on a recent Vault.com employee survey – read about the survey here that ranks the happiest accounting firms. The headliner for Friedman was the workplace initiative of its summer schedule. From June through August, there is no work on Friday. Friedman piloted the program back in 2007, and found that output actually exceeded that of a five-day workweek.

Notice how prominently closing on Fridays is displayed on the website of Borgida & Company, a Manchester, CT firm.

Check out “I Know It Can Be Done – Closing On Fridays” a blog post I did back in 2010. I truly believe that if CPA firm team members know they can have Friday off or leave early on Friday, they will work much harder Monday – Thursday. If that is not the case with your team members, perhaps you have deeper problems with your team members.

Here’s a good article on FastCompany, The Good, The Bad, and The Alternatives: What Bosses Really Think About Summer Fridays.

  • The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
  • Captain Jack Sparrow

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Improving the Culture Inside Your Busy CPA Firm

Gary Boomer, is that you with Rita?Many CPAs ask me, “How can we actually improve our culture?” or “How can we really make things better for our staff while still providing great client service and meeting government deadlines?”

Of course, tax season is one of the most challenging times. If you can make the work environment better during January thru April, you would be a firm where impressive, young talent would stay and build their careers.

That’s why I like a recent article by Gary Boomer in Accounting Today. Well, I like all of Boomer’s articles but this one caused me to reminisce about many of the things I worked on when I was working inside a busy, growing firm.

Boomer talks about the “after tax season review,” assessing what went right and what went wrong. We did it faithfully every April and compiled a list of things to change, improve or tweak. The secret? We made sure that we did actually implement…. we changed, improved and tweaked continually. It was part of our culture.

Here’s Boomer’s 10 Way You Can Make Next Tax Season Better:

  1. Schedule client appointments in advance.
  2. Scan and organize client data into a digital file.
  3. Utilize a digital workflow system.
  4. Implement one-way workflow and avoid loops. You do not have to send work back for training purposes.
  5. Review returns on a timely basis.
  6. Grade preparers on each return to drive out errors at the lowest cost.
  7. Bill and collect with the return.
  8. Reduce cycle time to increase profits.
  9. Utilize portals for aggregation of client data and the delivery of returns.
  10. Utilize a technology surcharge to achieve a return on your IT investment.

How many of the 10 are you doing? Read the entire article here.

  • Providing the right services to the right clients is very important.
  • Gary Boomer

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Would They Miss You If You Were Gone?

I don’t want to focus on death here – too depressing. But, would your clients really, truly miss you if you were gone?

Let’s say you, rather suddenly, decide to retire. Who, in your work world, would miss you?

I worked inside a growing CPA firm for 30 years. Many, many people came and went. Even when some people, who I thought were key people, key performers, great client service people, left…. most clients and team members didn’t seem to miss them at all.

I have read that when a sole practitioner suddenly dies, his/her clients will find another CPA in about one week – they don’t wait. In a larger firm, there are other partners and managers who have (or should have) client contact and can reassure the client that their financial affairs will be handled competently.

My point of all this is that there are a small group of clients who place a higher value on your advice and counsel. They are probably your favorite clients and may be part of a special segment you serve.

It is difficult to be important to everyone but you can be important to a small, valuable, easy-to-work-with group. They would miss you if you were gone. Seek more clients like that and out-place the others who think you are generic.

See Seth Godin’s post, In Search Of Meaningful.

  • It is no longer possible to be important to everyone.
  • Seth Godin

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Making The Very Complex…. Awesomely Simple

spenceYesterday, the keynote speaker at the AICPA PCPS PSTech Symposium was John Spence. You may have read his book – Awesomely Simple. If not, I think that title will grab your attention if you are involved in leading a CPA firm.

Mr. Spence enthusiastically and rapidly delivered a huge amount of common sense to the audience.

  (T + C + ECF) x DE = Success

(Talent + Culture + Extreme Client Focus) x Disciplined Execution = Success

There’s the simple formula. Now, get busy!  Focus on talent, culture and extreme client focus. Many of you do that pretty well or at least you talk about it a whole lot. The key is Disciplined Execution.

What you read on this blog every day is not rocket science. You have read it, heard it, talked it for years. Now, more than ever before it is time to execute, implement – Do things!

  • If you hire top talent and engage them, they will take care of clients.
  • John Spence

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Funny Business On Your CPA Firm Website

If you are a CPA firm, you website is a critical part of your practice growth strategy. Sure, years ago we were told it was just an online brochure. Some of you haven’t upgraded and/or updated your website in several years. In 2014 your website is a web asset.

If a potential new client or new employee hears your firm name, the first thing they are going to do (yes, you guessed it) is Google you!

I visit a lot of CPA firm websites. Many are still very old fashioned, most look exactly like their competitors (everyone is using a scrolling WordPress template), and thankfully, some stand out.

Focus your website on your visitor. A potential client wants to know how your firm can help them. Honestly, they don’t care how long you have been in business.

A potential employee whether it’s an experienced person or a college student, wants to get a feel for your culture.

I bet you want to see a good example. I have one for you! Recently, I visited the website of Wiss & Company, a New Jersey/New York City firm. I clicked on “Careers” and saw something called Funny Business – I clicked and I loved it. A picture is worth a thousand words. Click on the picture below to visit Funny Business and play with the pictures.

Wiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I returned to the home page. A potential new client hitting their site will immediately find items of interest to them, such as:

  • Tax Savings Tips for a Home-Based Business
  • Still A Need For Estate and Gift Planning
  • Mobile Payment Options for Small Business

Click on the picture below to check out their site.

Wiss & Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year, about this time, I urge you to make this year your Summer of Website!

  • Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.
  • Mark Twain

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