Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

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

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Why Top Performers Leave Your Firm

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.” – HubSpot’s Culture Code

Thanks to Lisa Benson for making me aware of an article on LinkedIn – Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management.

It addresses the issue of millennials leaving jobs but I think that it applies to every top performer in CPA firms, no matter what their generation.

Public accounting needs millennials, they are going to be the majority of the workforce in just a few short years. It’s time to take keeping them more seriously.

Here’s a summary of the article. It is a message for management about what is really behind a top performer’s resignation letter:

You tolerate low-performance. – CPA leaders you are SO guilty of this. It is very demotivating to a high-achiever to see Lazy Lily tolerated. You have heard this from me before – a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

ROI is not enough for me. – I want to do the best possible job for our client. I even spend weekends thinking about solutions. Then on Monday I hear about billable hours and realization. I want you to talk to me about how WE make a difference in the success of the firm clients.

Culture is more than free Panera. – Don’t confuse culture with collateral. I appreciate and enjoy the free food, etc. but more importantly I want to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we’re doing.

It’s ok to get personal. – Treat me like a number and I’ll return the favor. I will think of my job/career as a way to make a rent payment. I am desperate for you to show me that work we do here matters but I am NOT doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.

Creating a culture where people are inspired and excited is much more than focusing your energies on the bottom line.

PLEASE follow the link above and read the entire article. It is worth your time. Thanks to the author Lisa Earle McLeod.

  • We have a culture where we are incredibly self critical, we don't get comfortable with our success.
  • Mark Parker, CEO, Nike

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

What Else Can You Do?

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” – Henry James

Recently, I read an article via Fast Company about a commencement address by Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, founders of Walby Parker.

When they graduated from college, they felt the way a lot of new grads do – extremely well-educated in a narrow range of really specific things.

It’s a lot like that with the accounting profession. You are college-educated about accounting and then you enter public accounting where you are required to earn more education (CPE) about the accounting (and tax) each year.

When do you have time to learn other stuff? Sure, you can do taxes…. but what else can you do?

Blumenthal and Gilboa learned much along the way on their journey as entrepreneurs. I think you can learn from three of their tips

  1. Presume Positive Intent – It’s human nature to presume the worst – don’t do it. Commit to getting better every day.
  2. Speed-walk, Don’t Cliff-Dive – Committing to something doesn’t mean jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Speed-walking is constantly moving forward by taking deliberate step after deliverate step. Conquer fear by minimizing risk, not eliminating it.
  3. Treat Others The Way THEY Want to be Treated – Your business journey is enriched through exposure to a variety of perspectives. Seek to understand different points of view. Treating people the way YOU want to be treated does not always apply, people are complex and different.

One of the things that really impressed me with their story is their focus on kindness. They stated, “Kindness enables success while being the success we seek: a kind world. Let us all be proliferators of kindness.”

If you are not sure where to begin, start with a simple question. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make someone’s life better?”

Read the entire article.

  • No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
  • Aesop

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Finger-Pointing

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” – Catherine the Great

Occasionally, something goes wrong on a client engagement. Somebody didn’t follow procedures. Someone talked to the client and didn’t pass along the information. A client phone call got lost in the shuffle and didn’t get returned. The list could go on and on.

When this happens inside some firms, the finger-pointing game begins….. “The manager didn’t tell me I had to do that…. The staff person didn’t do what I told them… I put the client note in the file…. I think admin didn’t follow up…. ” Again, the list of accusations and excuses can go on and on.

In the best firms, there is no obsession with placing blame. Leaders and team members put little emphasis on the past, they focus on the future. They focus on how to fix things so that the mistake doesn’t happen again. They learn from mistakes.

Here’s a motto I want you to adopt at your firm:

Don’t worry about why it went wrong. Just put it right!

  • I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart