Is Meeting the Deadline, Meeting Your Client’s Expectations?

Our installers will be there between 12 noon and 5 pm

We’ve all been there.  Whether it’s hooking up a new cable or satellite provider package, getting appliances delivered and installed, or new furniture delivered, often these services come with a huge window of delivery time.  And while this window may be convenient for the company providing the service, it sometimes comes at an extreme inconvenience to the customer.

We, as customers, may have to take a half day off or work away from the office.  If we work, we lose productivity because in the back of our mind we’re constantly wondering “when will they show up?”  As the time remaining in the window gets less and less, our frustrations grow more and more.  Will they be here by 5pm?  Are they even going to show up?

Finally, at 4:30 pm they arrive.  But there’s no way they will finish the job by 5 so you are faced with adjusting daycare plans, changing dinner reservations and lining up another parent to take the kids to practice.

To sum it up, you, as a customer, are frustrated.  Frustrated at the level of service you’ve been provided and frustrated that you have to scramble to make it convenient for the company – to whom you just paid good money!  Shouldn’t they be providing a level of courtesy to you?

How do your clients feel about your level of service?

As a CPA firm, you’re currently working diligently toward the September 15 and October 15 tax deadlines.  All of those extensions you filed back in March and April are now getting squeezed out at the last minute.  And there is a lot to squeeze out!  I see this happen year after year, yet most firms don’t do much to make improvement.  How do you think that makes your clients feel?

Yes, I realize some clients aren’t concerned about filing last minute; and that some don’t provide their complete information until the last minute.  But most clients would prefer to have their work done earlier, having been extended the courtesy that they are important enough to complete, and most are more than willing to work with you to make sure you have everything you need.  We, as CPA firms, aren’t always as diligent about managing workloads and projects during the summer so inevitably they stretch out until we have no other choice but to comply with the regulatory deadline.

As I think about this phenomenon that happens around the extension deadlines every year, I keep coming back to the way I feel as a customer waiting for that installation.  And if 10 percent of your extension clients feel that way, your firm is exposed to a significant risk of clients leaving.

Let’s not manage to the deadline; let’s manage to client expectations instead

To their credit some firms really work hard during busy season and the early summer months to 1) minimize the number of clients that are put on extension and 2) insure that the clients that are put on extension have a game plan developed with mutually agreed upon internal and client deadlines.

Old-school, traditional thought in public accounting firms has been to put as many clients on extension as possible to create “summer work.”  While convenient for the firm, it could be an inconvenience, or worse yet, a turnoff to your clients.  I would much prefer that the firms I work with get more work done during busy season (in the same or fewer hours through Lean efficiency gains), effectively reducing the number of clients they put on extension.  This serves several benefits: it brings cash flow into the firm sooner; pleases clients; and frees up your teams to go out and drive new or additional business during the summer.

My recommendations for those clients that must be put on extension:

  • Understand the “Voice of the Client.” What is the window of time they would prefer to work in and have their returns filed?  It may be well before September 15.  Don’t assume that just because they agree to be put on extension, they want to be filing on September 14.
  • Develop a mutual game plan for completing the return. This involves setting timelines and expectations between your team and the client.  Next, lock those dates in your workflow program and/or calendar.  By setting this expectation with the client, you’ll have much more incentive to actually manage the project to that date.  Don’t worry; you’ll get the work done.  And once you get used to operating in this mindset, you’ll have less stress because you’ll be juggling less and completing more.
  • Manage the project and your teams according to this game plan. It’s not enough to sit back and hope your team is working to all the internal deadlines established.  Make sure the client upholds their end of the bargain as well.  With summer vacations and holidays, it takes effective project management to get work done.

Think about how much better you would feel about ABC Cable Corporation if, instead of being given a window of 12noon to 5pm, they told you they would be there at 1 pm and that the work would take approximately 45 minutes to complete.  Do you think that would make your day a little more organized and less disruptive?  You bet.  And you would probably recommend their service to your friends as well.

It’s not too late this year to make next year the year you improve your processes; getting everyone in the firm on board in order to deliver better client service.  If not, another firm would love to have your disappointed clients.


About the Author

Dustin Hostetler

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.