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Posts Tagged ‘clients’

I once had a younger team member ask me, “What can I do to make sure I have a successful tax season”? Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful tax season is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients. Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person. Regardless of our clients’ preferred mode of contact, keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator. In addition, effective communication with fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

  • First, you have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener. Always be prepared to patiently listen to your client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure you understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that you didn’t misunderstand him or her.
  • Second, try to focus on being self-confident and positive. By projecting the right attitude, your words also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation. A good tip in this regard is to smile even while you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive tone.
  • Third, understand who your audience is. When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature. Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it. Be sure to speak in your clients’ terms.
  • And lastly, you don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to “let it go.” There will be times during tax season when conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur. It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it. Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind. If you do make a mistake or find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate, your clients and colleagues are likely to be forgiving when you are honest and up front about it.

Always feel free to seek advice from your peers or supervisor if you are not clear on something. Not only will it help you work more productively, it will minimize any potential pitfalls with our clients, particularly during this stressful time of year.

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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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With several big filing deadlines now behind us, this time of year serves as a good reminder 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 a 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, it reflects what generally 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.

At Withum, we make every effort to do our part in the client retention process: by hiring the best and brightest talent possible; by providing education and training to our staff to keep them current on tax laws, regulations and industry knowledge; by 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 meet client deadlines, please be respectful of the valued relationships we have developed and nurtured with them, so that they continue to be clients of ours for many years to come. And in the event I can ever assist with a client relationship by meeting with them personally, please feel free to reach out to me.

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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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An important overarching decision managing partners of service firms must make when running their companies is how deeply engaged with technology they should become, knowing the use of technology can be a double edged sword.

 

Technology is appealing to clients. Using the latest technologies – mobile devices, laptops, software programs, ‘the cloud’ – implies our firms are on the leading edge and forward thinking. People generally perceive a firm using the latest and greatest technologies will also be cutting edge when it comes to giving advice, keeping up to date with the latest tax and audit literature. They might even expect that technology will assist us in improving our efficiencies in the delivery of services, therefore keeping fees competitive. So the best technology can help attract and retain the best clients. 

 

Technology is also appealing to staff. When was the last time you heard a staff person proudly exclaim they have the best erasers in the profession?  If we give staff the best tools available to our profession today, then they know they are working with a quality firm, one they can be proud of, and they can accomplish their jobs effectively and efficiently. The best technology can indeed help attract and retain the best staff.

 

So, all should be good, right?

 

The other side, however, are costs and the reality of loss of efficiency. I have many times seen clients try to employ cutting edge technology and wind up with systems that run over budget and don’t work effectively. One of my best clients has been trying to unravel a poorly planned and installed system for the past 15 years. It has become the proverbial black hole.

 

To effectively use technology, you need to have a plan. The plan needs to lay out the goals of the system, a time line for implementation and an analysis of true costs. There must be a stakeholder that takes the lead and has some affinity to the technology. It is important to get buy in from key users early on so you don’t implement a system that won’t get used, and you can reduce resistence by those in your organization who loathe change.

 

Most importantly, your company needs to be ready for the technology. As an example, for many years, we have been proud of the fact that our accountants have the best technology available in our profession. However, for the longest time we have delayed implementation of a CRM system, even though many other firms have been using them for years. Our thought process was that our key stakeholders wouldn’t update and utilize the system effectively, and we would be wasting both hard and soft dollars on implementing a system that would have low utilization. But over time, as our firm has grown and expanded and as the market has become more complex, it has become apparent we are ready for a CRM system and will begin implementation over the summer. This decision came easily because the market and our stakeholders were clamoring for a solution to a business problem. And I am sure success will be achievable.

 

We all need to embrace technology and use it to give ourselves the competive edge in the marketplace, but we also need to stay focused on what our clients and staff need. In this somewhat stagnant economy, our investment dollars are even more valuable and need to be spent expeditiously because mistakes will mean lost opportunities.

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