Caught in the busyness. March and April are busy times in CPA firms. We have multiple tax deadlines, calendar year-end audited financial statements are often due to clients and third parties, client meetings spike, phone calls and emails increase, and on and on. It’s easy to get lost in this busyness and feel entitled to procrastinate. “I just don’t have the time”, you say. It’s easy to forget to communicate – both internally and to your clients. They can just assume the status of the work or guess the answer to the question, right?
Each of these interactions you have, at any time of year but most especially during busy season, creates an experience. An experience that builds over time. Are you going to be known as the CPA who is so busy that I can’t call and ask you a business advisory question because you have hundreds of tax returns stacked up? Or are you going to be the trusted advisor that makes time and understands the importance of client experience in delivering, and ultimately billing for, enhanced value?
The truth of the matter is that the experience you provide and that your clients receive is paramount to the success of your organization.
What is the “Experience” You Provide? Some of you may disagree, and say “Dustin, experiences are for the Disney’s and Four Seasons’ of the world, not for us”. I would argue quite the opposite. In fact, I would love to be working with the CPA firms competing against this type of “old school” mindset.
Here’s a quick exercise… take a couple of minutes and think about the different experiences your firm provides. Experiences such as those that deal internally with your people as well as externally with clients and other third parties. Some questions that will help you along include:
- How would clients describe the experience of working with your firm? Are you timely? When they call or visit the office, do they feel appreciated? Do they have to call or email you to check on the status of work or are you proactive in communication? What hospitality do you provide? What professional “aura” do your people and office environment create? You may not realize it but clients are mentally building experiences in all of their interactions with you.
- How would banks, investors and other third parties describe the experiences of working with your firm? Are they always left waiting until the last minute for financial statements? How would your services and experiences compare to your competitors? Remember, they see services from a variety of firms. Are you at the top?
- And last, but definitely not least, what is the experience like working inside your firm? For Staff, for Managers and for Partners? Are you “burning out” people? Do you provide enough / adequate training for the development of your people? Training in CPA firms must go beyond the 40 required hours of CPE, and definitely beyond just the technical. Do you allow opportunities for stretching your people into new roles and new service opportunities? Do you give them “creative” time? If not, another firm who is looking for talented people will easily take yours because your people are not happy.
How does your firm rate? Are you happy with the answers to these questions?
Improve the Experiences, Improve Your Firm. Here’s a counterintuitive thought – and one I strongly believe: If your firm were to develop metrics, rewards and visibility around the questions I asked above to the same level as you give visibility and discussion time to charge hours and realization, profitability will take care of itself. Challenge your people to give incredible service and experiences (don’t handcuff them). Challenge your Staff to grow and take on new responsibilities. Challenge your Managers and Partners to spend time developing your Staff and leveraging more opportunity to them. Focus on service. Focus on timeliness. Focus on the additional value and differentiation your firm brings to the market. And the numbers will take care of themselves.
The number one thing efficient and effective processes do for your firm is give you time. Freeing up time at the basic compliance level through improved processes will eliminate the excuse you hear over and over – “I’d like to do all of this but don’t have time”. Quit with the excuses. Lean firms are continually finding time to focus on better service and higher value. They are playing “above the line” as we like to describe it.
Our goal at Boomer Consulting is to help you provide better experiences for your clients, for your business partners, and for your people – and we won’t rest in this pursuit.
About the Author
Dustin Hostetler, Shareholder and Director of Lean Six Sigma Consulting at Boomer Consulting, Inc., is a pioneer in applying the Lean and Six Sigma concepts to public accounting firms. As a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm, he has taken proven Lean techniques 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 improve client service, improve client retention, set the foundation for growth and build the bottom line.
Dustin holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from The Ohio State University, graduating magna cum laude, and earned both his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt certifications from Kent State University. Dustin is also a member of the CPA Consultants’ Alliance, a working group of thought leaders united in their efforts to further leadership within the CPA profession.