Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

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

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