Posts Tagged ‘client service’

Ed Mendlowitz is one of our valued partners here at Withum, and likely one of the most prolific writers I know, having authored 18 books for the profession. He also has a popular blog read and shared by thousands of accountants across the country, and is a regular contributor to AccountingToday.com. A recently published article of his was of particular interest to me, and I want to share it with you today: Art of Accounting – A Typical Day.

Last month through the New Jersey Society of CPAs, Ed was scheduled to speak to two high school classes about public accounting as a career path. He asked Karen Koch, a CPA and supervisor with just under five years’ experience, to join him. She put together some notes to describe her typical day at Withum, and Ed decided to share these notes as an article.

What Karen immediately notes is this: “There truly is no typical day in the field of accounting. Instead, each day I wake up excited to go to work—whether my office, the client’s premises, or working from home—and each day is filled with unique and challenging experiences.” She continues on with her story, outlining her full day of various client projects and even participating in her office’s “fun committee.” Pretty cool.

Karen’s story supported the message I delivered at the State of the Firm and reminded me of the many opportunities Withum has to offer our team members… of every level, in every department. It is my goal as managing partner to ensure that Withum continues to offer great learning experiences for our professionals, keeping them intellectually challenged and allowing them to grow both personally and professionally. Our firm has always been entrepreneurial and a people-oriented place to work. As the Withum Way describes, we work hard and play hard, embracing the family spirit and offering the flexibility to allow all of our professionals to be well rounded people in and out of the office, and not just focused on work and the accounting profession.

As Karen’s story suggests, Withum breaks the stereotype of boring accountants who “only do taxes and are holed away somewhere over a calculator” (exactly what our latest video describes!). We strive to offer the best career opportunities right here at Withum. All we each need to do is take advantage of it.


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I’d like to continue expanding upon the ten traits described in the Withum Way, all of which define our culture and the behaviors which best exemplify our people.  Today we will cover point five:

  1. Demand Integrity. One of Fred Withum’s favorite sayings was, “Our services are for sale; not our integrity.” This truism still applies, as Withum staff continue to hold up the highest levels of values and ethics, and expect the same from those with whom they work.

The goal of every professional service provider is to be a ‘trusted advisor’ to his or her clients.  Being honest and truthful is the basis of a trusting, valued relationship.  But sometimes the truth hurts, especially when it negatively affects the bottom line.  Your client may not want to hear what you have to say all the time, but in the long run, they will respect you more for having maintained your integrity and principles, guiding them to make the best decisions.

On the flip side, how do you address a situation when you find yourself in the wrong?  Remember this: honesty and transparency about mistakes actually increases your credibility and builds trust with clients. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just a fact of life. It’s how you handle the mistakes which makes all the difference. Here are a few tips on how to best address an error with a client:

  • First, apologize sincerely.
  • Next, state what happened. Be honest, be succinct, but don’t berate yourself with, “I’m such an idiot…”   Rather, say, “In my effort to meet the deadline, I failed to double check the file.”
  • Next, share how you are going to fix it. Provide a solution that will meet the client’s needs.
  • Finally, share how you will make sure it never happens again.

Of course, no matter how honest and transparent you are, continually making mistakes will cause you to lose credibility and lose the client!  However, a good client will not expect everything to always go perfectly.  Be true to yourself and your core values, and ultimately, things will work out for all parties involved.

Thanks and have a great week!

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We call tax season “busy season” for a reason – everyone in the firm is exceptionally busy, especially this week, as we come to the corporate deadline, churning out the tax returns for our valued clients. However, be mindful that busy season can also present additional marketing opportunities that will lead to new business after busy season.

  • Value Add. This is a good time to work on becoming our client’s trusted advisors. Make value added recommendations while we are at their offices. Ask them what the 5-year plan is for their business’ growth and development. Ask them what keeps them up at night, or what issues have been plaguing them lately. With this information, we can help them achieve their goals and solve their problems. We should get client contacts signed up for applicable firm newsletters, tax tips, seminars, etc. This will provide contacts you’re working with information that will help them beyond tax season.
  • Ask for the referral. Once you have a great client relationship, let them know you enjoy doing their work. Clients are your best sales people – they already believe in our firm and our abilities.
  • Don’t forget referral sources. Call a couple of your top referral sources to touch base and say hello. Mention there might be clients they have whom you’d like to meet and vice versa. Set up a lunch to talk about co-business development efforts. Hey, everyone needs to eat no matter how busy they are! They will be impressed you took the time to call them during busy season. Remember, you are helping them as much as they are helping you.
  • Client Service. Nurture our client relationships and let them know how important they are to our firm. Don’t just assume they know this – tell When appropriate, ask them if there are things we could be doing better. Client service and strong relationships with our clients are critical to the future of our firm.

It is so important (and easy) to stay in front of clients and prospects during these next few months. With just a little time each week, it is possible to turn busy season into marketing season!

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In the coming months, I will share a series of messages covering each of the ten behavioral traits which define the Withum Way.  We introduced this list for the first time at the State of the Firm event in January 2012, having created it with the intent to define the core values of our firm’s people.  This is the way we think; this is the way we feel; this is what we do.  These behaviors go beyond office walls, beyond service and industry niche teams, as they spill over into the way we choose to perform, even in our personal lives.  As we grow as a firm, defining the Withum Way philosophy serves as a playbook for younger staff and new members of our Withum family on how to continue developing our culture, our brand and our business strategies, essentially institutionalizing our culture.

So, today, we begin with the first trait:

  1. Think Client Centrically.  The purpose behind most everything we do revolves around the betterment of our relationships with our clients. This is the impetus behind providing ‘world-class client service.’

Competition is fierce.  What sets our firm apart from its competitors, however, is our unwavering commitment to providing World Class Service to our clients, going above and beyond what is expected.  As stated in our Core Values messaging, our greatest success is derived from working alongside every client as a true partner, and watching their business grow and thrive. We are more than just accountants. We are business advisors who offer innovative solutions and alternative ideas to help our clients succeed.

To really make an impression with our highly valued clients, take the time to actually speak with them at least once a month, if not more often.  Pick up the phone and make a call.  Arrange a time to stop by their offices just to see how things are. Take your clients out to breakfast or lunch and discuss face-to-face what is keeping them up at night.  Make it a point to let your client know you value their business. And don’t be afraid of getting to know your clients on a personal level. Ask about their family; ask about their interests. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how much you have in common. It’s the little things that go a long way in preserving your client relationships and solidifying your role as trusted advisor.  Frequent touches with our clients help to ensure they are our clients for many years to come.

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Happy Mother’s Day!! (belatedly).  I trust you all had a great day and for those of you that are mothers you were treated to a special day by your family….and everyone else spent some valuable time with your mom’s and family….at the end of the day we all work hard for the reward of quality time with our families.

Now that we are through busy season, you are probably feeling relieved. But I am sure that the hectic pace of busy season is still fresh in your mind…you recall feeling like part of an act from a circus show where a man takes a plate, balances it on the end of a long pole, and gives it a spin.  Then he repeats the process with another plate, then another, and another until there are about eight or more plates spinning. During the rest of the act, the man runs from pole to pole, shaking the poles carefully in turn to keep the plates spinning. The plate is always just a second away from disaster. It’s a great metaphor for the effort we go through in balancing our client demands, engagements and personal obligations, keeping them crashing and burning and always moving forward.  Now is the time to plan for next busy season to be sure you don’t let any of those metaphorical plates hit the floor. Here are few ideas to make it easier:

1. Know Your Next Deadline.

Plan on getting information in more timely…..communicate with our clients that we would like to set a false deadline the week before the real deadline and get the information in early to avoid the last minute rush…..Also, if you’ve got multiple projects running concurrently, it can be very tempting to just pick the one that is easiest, most fun or for a favorite client and work on that. This can be a recipe for disaster, as it allows other deadlines to creep up on you unexpectedly.   A useful tip is to keep a document with these open project due dates posted in a very visible place, keeping track of everything.

2. Keep Task-Switching to a Minimum.

As many of you likely know, switching from one task to another is a productivity killer. Every time you need to ramp up on something, it takes you a while to remember what you were doing and to get back into “the zone” where you’re working efficiently. Don’t try to divide a four-project day into 8 individual 1-hour segments if you can possibly avoid it. You’re much better off blocking two hours for each project together – or, even better, spending half a day on each project on alternate days.

3. Apply Grease as Needed.

No client ever wants to think that they are at the back of the queue. Make each client feel they are the most important client by conducting a quick triage process on requests for extra work as they come in. Make it a practice to get to client requests that take less than half an hour out of the way at the start of the day; it really helps.

4. Keep Clients Updated.

Even if you can’t deliver everything as soon as the client might like, don’t ever “go dark” on a project. Every client e-mail should get a response, every phone call should be promptly returned, if only to tell them that you’ll be able to consider that more fully tomorrow. On major projects, send out a quick status report every one or two days (usually just a bulleted list of open issues) to let the clients know that their work is still proceeding. If you take this approach, make sure that the list actually changes from day to day. Don’t let open items sit for more than two weeks. Keep reminding the client of the open items because if they forget them, it will be our fault when the pressure is on to make a deadline.

5. Under-Promise/Over-Deliver

It is important to set expectations with clients. Let them know when they can realistically have a draft or completed product and then push internally to beat the date promised by a day or two. As always, when setting expectations, we need to also warn clients that we need complete and accurate information from them in order to do our job, and as stated in point 4 above, if we keep them posted on open items we should also let them know how open items impact our delivery date.

Switching between multiple projects can be challenging, yet it is a necessary evil in our demanding profession. But if you can manage it, the benefits of having more satisfied clients who will consider you as their trusted advisor makes it worthwhile.

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Now that busy season has wrapped up and our clients are (hopefully) content (for now), we are reminded that our clients are the core reason why we are a thriving professional services firm.  They need and require the services we provide, but choose to remain Withum clients.  CCH published an Accounting Firm Client Survey which provided this list of top client responses as to why they chose to no longer work with their current service provider. I think it is a good list to review, although fortunately a few of the points are not applicable to Withum.  But overall, they offer a solid reminder of what matters most to clients.

The Top 10 Reasons Clients Leave:

  1. The firm did not regularly check with me on my changing needs.
  2. Staff were not able to efficiently find the information needed to deliver the services I needed.
  3. I believe the firm was charging more than the value I was receiving. (note this is a PERCEPTION that we need to avoid by demonstrating value time after time)
  4. It became apparent that the firm was not leveraging technology to deliver the best services possible.
  5. The firm did not keep me up-to-date on regulations that directly affected me.
  6. I became concerned about the firm’s financial stability.
  7. The firm no longer specialized in the types of services I needed.
  8. I lost trust in the ability to deliver the quality services I needed.
  9. It became apparent to me that the firm was not acting as efficiently as it should.
  10. The firm had difficulty recruiting or retaining talented employees.

As a Firm, we make every effort to do our part in the client retention process: by hiring the best and the brightest talent possible; by providing education and training to our staff; to implementing cutting-edge technology to provide world-class client service and client communications; and by conducting annual client surveys to keep a pulse on their needs. But the rest is up to you… the individual professional.

Regardless of how much pressure we are under to make client deadlines, please be respectful of the valued relationships we have developed and nurtured with our clients, so that they continue to be clients for many years to come.  And in the event I can ever assist with a client relationship, please let me know.

Thanks and have a great week.

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I am a big fan of Zappos, a mega-online retailer who truly understands the value of great customer service. I recently read an article referencing Zappos, “Want a Competitive Advantage? Focus on Customer Experience.”  One thought particularly resonated with me:

“Today, whether you’re selling online or off, focusing on customer experience should be as important a part of your integrated marketing strategies as anything you’re doing with regard to search engine optimization, social, content, lead gen and the like. If you do all these other things without focusing on delivering a great customer experience, chances are good it won’t matter.”

We certainly have a strong marketing culture here at our firm, with proven results of increased brand awareness and new business.  However, as pointed out in the above statement, all of our marketing efforts won’t matter if we don’t retain our clients.  Remember, they need and require the services we provide, but choose to remain our clients.  Here are a few tips to help you make a positive impression with our highly valued clients:

  • Respond to client calls or emails as quickly as possible.  A timely response makes them feel they are top priority to you, and everyone likes to feel that way.
  • Take the time to actually speak with them at least once a month, if not more often.  Pick up the phone and make a call.  Or arrange a time to stop by their offices just to see how things are.
  • Take clients out to breakfast or lunch (I call this a meeting without an agenda) besides getting to know our client better personally use this time  to discuss what is keeping them up at night, and see if you can help find a solution. We have a deep well of talent of expertise at our firm, as well as a vast network of resources of those services we do not directly provide (insurance, investments, payroll, etc.).  We can likely help solve any problematic issue they have. Be a problem solver for our clients and elevate yourself to a trusted professional.
  • Make it a point to let our client know you value their business, and are genuinely interested in their business. Check out their website on a regular basis to see what they are up to. Share an article you just read that pertains to their industry. Let them know you truly care.
  • Don’t be afraid to get to know our clients on a personal level. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how much you have in common.  Ask about their family; ask about their interests.  Consider sending a note on their birthday, or a gift when a new grandbaby has arrived. Be a friend in business.

It’s the little things that go a long way in preserving our client relationships and solidifying your role as trusted advisor.  Frequent touches with our clients helps to ensure they are our clients for many years to come.

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