Delivering Better Client Service through Lean Six Sigma

There are two common misconceptions some people have regarding process improvement initiatives. First, one school of thought believes you can’t be more efficient without negatively impacting quality. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve written substantially about this in the past and it’s a core topic we discuss in all of our client organizations – efficiency and quality are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one should lead to the other if your process improvement initiative is done correctly.

The second common misconception is that by undertaking a process improvement initiative, we could negatively be impacting our client service. Once again, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those who understand Lean and process improvement understand that at the heart of Lean is a relentless pursuit of maximizing value (service and opportunities) for clients. This latter misconception will be the focus of this newsletter.

Kano Model of Client Satisfaction. A great way to illustrate the point of delivering greater value to clients is in the form of the Kano Model – a well-researched and defined customer service model. From this model we analyze three different customer service “curves” – each of which describe services we provide to clients. The three are Basic, Performance and Delighter services.

At the most basic service level, compliance-type services are provided to clients. The definition of this Basic curve (basic services) are services that your clients completely take for granted. These services are very close to being viewed as a commodity. The thought process may go “anyone can do this type of work”. So, naturally, if all of your time and work is spent at this level, you’re competing on fees. From a client perspective, there’s very little differentiation.

As a firm elevates its services, the next curve to explore under the Kano Model is the Performance services. The definition of Performance services are those activities you perform that provide the primary results your clients are seeking. This is your first layer of differentiation. The more of these services you provide (the more strategic focus / time you set aside to operate at this level), the happier your clients are. On the tax side, this is being proactive in developing tax planning strategies and finding ways to save real dollars. The more you can help the client save money, the happier they are. On the Audit and/or Client Accounting side, identifying operational and/or performance improvement opportunities for the client would be an example.

Finally, true client satisfaction and loyalty comes at the Delighter level of service. This is the “wow” factor that you provide to clients. The definition of the Delighter curve is unexpected elements of service that you provide to clients that truly differentiate your organization – they think “wow”. Even a little bit of this level of service escalates the firm on the client satisfaction scale.

How Lean helps organizations to “Delight”. If the goal of an organization is to operate at more of the “delighter” level, first and foremost we must create the time and opportunities to do this. Unfortunately, many firms we go into have individuals at all levels who are so mired in the details of the basic compliance and commodity work that they can’t escape and think more strategically for clients. So at a basic level of services, we must find ways to make those processes more crisp and effective. We can’t waste time operating at this level. That work must be done for clients, but we must find ways to do it in a crisp and effective manner while maintaining and building our quality.

If we can improve our efficiency at the Basic level, we can free up time to operate at the Performance and Delighter levels of service – therefore elevating our client service and delivering greater value. We can be more “tuned in” to the needs of our clients, what they value and want, and actually deliver on the promise of being a trusted advisor. Through lean, we can ensure more of our work is being done at the correct level, we can ensure that redundant steps are reduced, and most especially we can ensure that client value is central to everyone in our organization. Delivering value is so much more than inputting or reviewing boxes in a tax program, or preparing and reviewing workpapers in an audit binder.

Deliver exceptional client service through Lean. Your clients deserve it.


About the author:

Dustin HostetlerDustin Hostetler is the founder of Flowtivity and the practice leader and lead consultant for Lean4CPAs by Flowtivity. As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm, he has taken proven Lean techniques from the manufacturing floor and tailored them to bring ground-breaking value to public accounting firms. His innovation and passion has brought true efficiency to accounting — helping accounting firms unleash the potential of their professionals. He can be reached at

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