Originally published on Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting Blog, September 2016
Be honest, how many of you find yourself and your colleagues scrambling ahead of the September and October deadlines? Scrambling to reconnect with clients who you haven’t spoken to since March or April? Scrambling to get client information? Scrambling to finalize a ton of returns and keep track of them all?
If you’re like most CPA firms, those last few weeks are a fire drill. I know, because I hear about it and see it – both from a client perspective and a CPA firm perspective. I’ve heard stories such as:
- Reconnecting with a client for the first time since March, on September 6th. A whopping one week ahead of the deadline.
- Forgetting about a client until they had to call in and check on the status of their work, or at least that’s what the client thought.
- Enlisting younger staff to finally help you in your pursuit of client information. It took the impending deadline for an in-charge to finally leverage the talents and availability of the team.
I hear these stories from non-Lean firms year after year, and yet only a select group of firms are stepping up and doing something about it. Don’t get me wrong; there’s lots of talk in the industry about efficiency improvement. Especially in late April and May when firms “debrief” after busy season and make a pledge not to let the 9/15 deadline and 10/15 deadline come up out of nowhere. “This summer is going to be different,” many say. Unfortunately, there are still way too many firms who never change the paradigm.
What do your clients think?
To change the paradigm, firms need to think differently. As we say in the Lean world, everything revolves around “The Voice of the Client.” Lean focuses on setting up our processes in a way that understands what clients want, think, expect and value. We make sure everyone working in the process understands what clients want, think, expect and value. Then we deliver on that promise.
The “scrambling” examples I listed above are examples of poor client service. There’s no beating around the bush on that statement. I would be appalled if I were your client and didn’t hear from you until one week before my extended return was due. I would be upset if I had to call because I didn’t know the status of my extended return after I sent in my information over the summer. Finally, while I understand as your client that you have to leverage your resources to get work done, I would have thought you would have had your team reach out to me sooner.
If you look at it from a client’s perspective, would you do anything differently? Would you take process improvement more seriously?
Get past excuses and improve
Believe me; I’ve heard every excuse for why chaos has to surround the various deadlines. “It’s the nature of our business.” “Clients don’t want us involved earlier.” “We need to take a break during the summer.” We could fill a page with these excuses. Unfortunately, many of these excuses are what we ‘think’ or believe and are not always grounded in reality from a client’s perspective.
Even the excuse that clients don’t want to give us their information until the very last possible moment has some holes in it. We’ve either trained them that this is acceptable and the norm, or we’ve never given them options to help them out. For example, have you discussed the benefits of your Client Accounting Services or outsourced Controller services? Have you done everything possible to give them a project management timeline to help them out? Have you made sure your PBC List is as “client friendly” as possible – not using your terminology, but their terminology? These are just some of the easy and obvious answers firms are deploying to help their clients (and earn some additional revenue for value-added work). Or, if they are absolutely unworkable, is that really a client that you want to be doing business with?
There’s so much wrong in firms that only operate to and at the deadlines. To truly be considered a “trusted advisor,” communication and strategic guidance need to occur throughout the year. To get out of commodity pricing and constant fee pressures, communication and strategic guidance need to occur throughout the year. You should have clients that want and value this from you. Ultimately, you need to build into your process what an ideal client service model would be. Match your process to the voice of the client. Make sure your entire process team is on board with the process. Then watch your results soar!
Let’s get past the excuses and make results happen.