Archive for the ‘Client service’ Category

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

Client Service

“There are two paths, really: “I will serve just enough to make the maximum profit” or “I will profit just enough to provide the maximum service.” – Seth Godin

Managing an accounting firm means juggling a lot of balls.

I have observed that often, firm leaders permit client service to gradually slip down the list of priorities.

New clients get so much attention. They are courted throughout the pursuit process. They receive lots of information from the firm. They are continually in touch with the partner assigned and several other team members who are serving them. Their calls are always taken or at least returned within a couple hours. They are special and you want them to feel that way.

Often, long-term, loyal clients seem to be forgotten. Of course, they receive good service during the annual engagement. But how often do you “touch” them throughout the year? Do they get recognized because they always pay on time? Do they receive links to articles about their industry from you? Does the firm acknowledge special life events for clients like a child’s graduation or marriage?

I have modified an old saying for you – – – “Get new clients but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.”

  • There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.
  • Sam Walton

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Skilled Leaders Know How to Delegate

“The really expert riders of horses let the horse know immediately who is in control, but then guide the horse with loose reins and seldom use the spurs.” – Sandra Day O’Connor

It is a common problem inside accounting firms. As people gain experience and move up the ladder – staff to senior, senior to manager, manager to senior manager, senior manager to partner – they often cling to familiar work and hesitate to delegate.

It is a big step to move from doing to leading. You want to develop successors. You need future leaders for your firm. Delegate.

I have observed that in many accounting firms, partners are doing manager work and managers are doing senior work, seniors are doing staff work and staff are looking for work.

Why not reverse this long-time tradition? Adopt a different long-time tradition used at the large national firms – push work down to the lowest skill level. Staff members are super busy, seniors are pressing managers for more challenging work and managers are managing seniors and staff and asking partners how they can lighten their load. Partners are doing consulting work, maintaining client relationships, mentoring young people and most importantly, bringing in new business.

As you gain more experience and get promoted if you don’t delegate you will soon find yourself coming in earlier, staying later and feeling like the firm cannot survive without you.

I like this passage from an HBR article – How to be a great leader, you have to learn how to delegate well.

While it may seem difficult, elevating your impact requires you to embrace an unavoidable leadership paradox: You need to be more essential and less involved. When you justify your hold on work, you’re confusing being involved with being essential. But the two are not the same — just as being busy and being productive are not necessarily equal.

As you address your workload this week, take a moment and ask yourself – How can I be more essential and less involved?

  • Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
  • Stephen Covey

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Outsourced Accounting

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” – Anton Chekhov

CPA firms are seeing amazing growth in the area of outsourced accounting services. It not only is of immediate value to clients, it also provides the accountant with the ability (and information) to become even more of a trusted advisor.

Recently, Bill.com released the results of a survey they did regarding the use of outsourced accounting services. They have furnished a report on their findings – What Businesses Really Think of Client Accounting Services. You can download the report here.

In the introduction, Bill.com founder, Rene Lacerte, notes:

We are a nation of outsourcers.

In our personal lives, we outsource both simple and complex tasks—everything from grocery shopping to planning for retirement. We aren’t lazy or incapable, but we know that if we let the experts handle these tasks, they will be done right and allow us time to focus on what matters most. Outsourcing reinforces our priorities.

Businesses, too, are well acquainted with outsourcing. Disciplines ranging from IT to customer support to HR have all found their ways to hire experienced professionals outside of the corporate structure. Now, outsourcing all accounting is gaining traction.

The accounting profession has talked about client accounting advisory services (CAS) for a decade, speculating on the best ways a firm can solicit and handle all of a company’s accounting and finance department needs. For accountants, holding the reins to the company’s financial performance gives them unparalleled insight into the business and the ability to surpass a transactional state in favor of strategic advice and planning. It creates the platform for impactful contributions.

While accountants understand the benefits of CAS, what do businesses think about outsourcing their accounting? If you’re considering starting or expanding your CAS practice, it is good insight to have before you begin.

In this survey with CPA.com, we asked more than 1,700 small and medium-size businesses to share their opinions on outsourcing accounting. The results are summarized in the following pages. Respondents told us how much they’re outsourcing today, what they’d like to outsource, what they appreciate about it, and how it benefits their customers.

The survey data underscores just how important CAS can be to both firms and their business clients and how it will continue to grow and gain even greater value in the accounting world.

  • Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
  • William Shakespeare

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Busy vs. Busyness

“Leadership is about creating change you believe in.” – Seth Godin

I just had to share a post by Seth Godin. It is so right-on for the CPA profession. The title is Business/Busyness. I sincerely hope you take just a couple minutes to read the entire post.

You (and all your team members) are busy, but are you productive? Productivity is the amount of useful output created for every hour of work we do.

Take note of number three in his post. Productivity suffers when you are waiting – Waiting on answers from a partner, waiting on tech support, waiting on clients.

What are you going to do about the time killer – waiting on clients? The lost time wasted on clients who keep you waiting could be better spent on the kind of clients who value your services and your team.

Godin states: Busy is not your job. Busy doesn’t get you what you seek. Busy isn’t the point. Value creation is. 

You only get today once. Your team does too. How will you spend it?

  • People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.
  • Seth Godin

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

Accounting Firm Websites

 “If you want success, be unique.” – Natalie Massenet

Many firms I have talked to recently are focusing on updating their website this summer. Your website is so important. It is the first impression that a new client has of your firm. Does it look modern and trendy or does it look conservative, boring and old?

BNA logoI look at a lot of CPA firm websites and my favorite remains BNA CPAs & Advisors in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Their site is modern and trendy, clean and sleek and so are their offices and attitudes.

I met Bernie and Jason Ackerman many years ago at a conference and have stayed in touch over the years. They have been so proactive in improving their firm and its processes. They embrace technology to the fullest. Their focus remains on how they can provide even better client service.

Visit their site and explore. Learn how BNA delivers tax returns in 3 days. Then, compare it to your website. How do you stack up?

  • My personal ambition remains the same - to be creative, to be modern, to stay one step ahead, to enjoy life.
  • Natalie Massenet

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Be Careful What You Say and Where You Say It

“A secret spoken finds wings” – Robert Jordan

Client confidentiality is a very important issue inside a CPA firm. So, my warning to all CPA firm team members, including new hires and the administrative team (includes techies and marketers) is – Be careful what you say and where you say it!

This shouldn’t happen, but it does. Team members joke about clients. Perhaps, inside your firm you even have “pet” names for clients, i.e., Mr. Always Late (or even more unflattering names). Be careful!

Never forget that people sitting in your lobby or conference room can overhear many conversations. Develop a culture where clients are always talked about with respect except behind doors and for a good reason.

Here are some examples to avoid and to educate everyone in your firm to avoid:

One firm had a stairway in the lobby leading to the upstairs staff offices and meetings rooms. Anyone sitting in the lobby could hear what was said in the upstairs landing. After an incident occurred, continual reminders kept people from having any kind of client discussions on that upper landing.

Another firm had a client approach a partner to warn him that he, the client, was dining in a popular business lunch spot and overheard a table of administrative people discussing a client of the firm. The client didn’t want his business discussed in public places.

These examples are just one segment of client confidentiality. Some clients don’t even want people to know who handles their financial affairs.

Again, be careful and educate everyone working at the firm.

 

  • Confidentiality is an ancient and well-warranted social value.
  • Kay Redfield Jamison

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Is It A Rule or A Guideline?

I have three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” – Lou Holtz

Sometimes we get our inspiration from strange places. When I read the following quote from Ghostbusters, it made me think CPAs.

“I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people… Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.” – Bill Murray, Ghostbusters

It also made me think of my grandson when he was very small. If he was corrected because of some action, he would ask, “Is that a rule?” If we said yes, he was okay with that. I think it is something he learned in preschool. If it is a rule, you follow it.

Inside your firm, do you have rules or guidelines? Maybe we need to actually use the term “rule” more often.

  • It is a rule that every partner must bill out all WIP over $500 by the 2nd day of the following month.
  • It is a rule that our people are punctual in relation to their own behaviors and in serving clients.
  • It is a rule that we send accounts receivable statements to all clients every month, no exceptions.
  • It is a rule that we don’t voice our issues with others, except to them directly and in private.

Then we maybe we have some guidelines:

  • We have a guideline that says we return a client’s phone call the same day.
  • We have a guideline that says we stop work if a client is 90 days past due on payment.

I think you probably have more guidelines than rules. Should some of your guidelines actually be rules? Do you demand that all staff follow the documented workflow processes but partners don’t follow the rules?

Help your staff understand this complicated scenario. How are you dealing with it or are you ignoring it?

One time a CPA firm technology director said to me, “At our firm we have guidelines but we manage by exception.” I usually observe that inside CPA firms, there are way too many exceptions.

 

  • The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Talk With Your Team About Purpose

“The purpose of your business should be as clear as the name on your building, not another page in your HR handbook.” – William Vanderbloemen

Yes, talk to your team about the firm’s purpose. However, the ownership group better talk about it first!

Have you really given any thought about the purpose of your firm?

A recent study from Korn Ferry showed that companies with teams focused on their organization’s purpose had annual growth rates nearly three times the annual rate for their entire industry.

The survey also showed that 90% of people who worked in a purpose-driven organization reported feeling engaged in their work.

Forbes.com contributor, William Vanderbloemen, CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group (an executive search firm focused on churches) discusses the great impact of focusing on purpose. Read his Forbes article here.

Do CPA firms have a strong purpose? You bet they do! I talk to a lot of CPAs and the thing they love the most is their clients. When I ask managers and staff of public accounting firms what they like best about working at a firm they almost always name “the clients” first.

CPAs are the most trusted advisor. They help businesses and individuals become more successful. They help family businesses survive. They help transition businesses from generation to generation. They help clients better understand tax issues and accounting practices. The healthier the business community, the healthier the community. CPAs play a huge role in that.

I know you can add to this list of what you do but do you talk about it? Do you identify your purpose and keep it in front of your employees? Are you persistent in pushing the importance of your core values? Are the core values meaningful and understandable? I admire the values of Mr. Vanderbloemen’s firm:

  • Broadband Love
  • Unusual Servanthood
  • Wow-Making Excellence
  • Ridiculous Responsiveness
  • Solution-Side Living
  • Ever-Increasing Agility
  • Stewardship of Life
  • Constant Improvement
  • Contagious Fun

Learn more about each value by visiting the website. It is under the “About” tab. For example, Solution-Side Living means:  The Vanderbloemen team members are problem solvers, always having a solution mentality and not a victim mentality.

They actually all nine of their core values them painted on a wall in their staff meeting room – covering the entire wall in big letters of different styles and sizes.

Take steps this summer to better define your culture. Make it a purposeful culture. Identifying your core purpose is not enough. It requires a deep and abiding commitment from the top. Your purpose needs to be visible in all your actions and activities from hiring people to serving clients.

 

  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Flashback Friday – What Are You Training Them To Do?

You complain and complain about “those” clients who wait until the last minute. Your team has to work so many long hours because things are delayed because of “those” clients.

Why do you let some people make your work life miserable? There is a couple of solutions – 1) give them the opportunity to work with another provider and 2) train them to do what you expect!

Here’s a post from last year with some great comments from Seth Godin about training customers.

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Disruption of the Profession

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” – John Maynard Keynes

Last week, Daniel Hood, Editor-in-Chief of Accounting Today, wrote a great article covering a presentation by Mark Koziel, of the AICPA, at the recent ENGAGE conference in Las Vegas.

Koziel noted that technology is taking us out of our comfort zone. “We as a profession can’t wait for regulation to disrupt us, we need to disrupt ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to take our expertise and interact with our clients in new and different ways.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Among the most important ways the profession will need to change will be to move up from services and activities that rapidly being automated. “Technology could automate 49 percent of current activities,” he warned. “Data processing and bookkeeping have a higher percentage chance of being automated, versus managing others and applying expertise – and that’s what CPAs do: We apply expertise. That’s less likely to be automated. Analyzing and interpreting data is where it’s at – not the low end of data entry,” he added.

Read the entire article here and share it with your partners and team members.

  • The key to success and change management is learning, then unlearning, and then relearning.
  • Mark Koziel, AICPA