I think that technology is ‘dumbing down’ the value of the Accountant. Before technology Accountants had to think about the client’s situation more and communicate (with spoken words) more than they do now. These days the Accountant just needs to know which keys to hit in which order on the keyboard.
It seems Accountants would rather ‘rip off an email’ and think their job is done rather than give the client a call. It seems Accountants would rather send work via email or courier rather than present the work to the client. I think most of the value created is in the conversation and the presentation.
Take a look at what the 428 business owners told us when it comes to annual accounts. Over half (52%) said they got their year-end work either emailed, posted or couriered to them for signing.
This is disgraceful. Most of the profession’s revenue is in compliance right now. This is your primary product and you email it to your clients for signing! Save me please. No wonder clients do not value compliance! You don’t value it. You downplay the value of it by emailing it. I (and your clients) have 2 primary questions when it comes to our year end financials.
- How much tax do I have to pay and why?
- Where did the money go?
How will I know those answers if you email me your primary product? I do also wonder what happens in the face-to-face (45% of occasions) meetings. I bet they are not structured nor do they offer a huge amount of value.
Stop sending your primary product for signing via courier post or email. You are wasting an opportunity to add value, ask questions and maybe find another project.
Make sure when you do meet with your client to present the year end accounts that you actually explain what they mean. Make sure you do a 3-year historical ‘Business Performance Review’ at least once per year to add value to the history. Make sure that you ask (in this meeting) what their goals are and then you can start to match services that help them achieve their goals.
Technology can certainly make our lives easier and more efficient. Technology should enhance a client experience not diminish it.
Without a doubt the no. 1 technology thing that you can do in your firm is to suggest/encourage/cajole/insist your clients move to a cloud accounting product. Although there are issues associated with cloud accounting I think it is the most important thing you can do with your clients. The issues are only issues if you do nothing about the efficiency gains you get from using cloud based accounting.
With your clients on a desktop product you have redundant data. With your clients on cloud accounting you can be so much more real time. You can add value now, not later. You can get a heartbeat of your clients every day. You can make a massive difference to their financial condition. You can take the ‘financial intimacy’ up a number of levels.
Many firms are insisting that 100% of their clients move across to a cloud based accounting system. It just makes sense to do so. The vast majority of firms will have 2-3 products in their client base. Most Accountants will not align themselves with just one provider. I think that is the right thing to do. You match the product to the clients’ needs.
There are many firms who are going further than just promoting a cloud based accounting system. The ultimate solution at the client’s site is where every aspect of the technology ‘talks’ to each other. The accounting data is integrated with the customer data. The accounting and customer data is integrated with the inventory control data and all that integrates with the distribution system. So the entire supply chain is covered. All of that data is consolidated into daily ‘dashboards’ so the business owners can see what is going on in every aspect of their business. This sort of technology used to cost millions of dollars to buy and implement. Because of the massive development in cloud computing you can get it for a few hundred dollars per month.
The right technology can give the business owner better data to make better management decisions. You can be at the center of all the technology by recommending systems which will help.
You are the expert in financial coaching. With better data you can be a better financial coach. With the right technology and the right data you truly can become the Real Time Accountant. You can download the entire report on what 428 business owners want from their Accountant my clicking here.
Our research indicates a client will leave an Accountant for either ‘Service’ or ‘Services.’ They are either unhappy with the customer service (speed of communication, turnaround time, etc) or with the services they are buying or not buying from you. Under the services banner it includes value for money, pricing, mistakes or something else they think they need but are not getting.
We asked the 428 business owners ‘if you had to choose one thing, what should your Accountant do?’ We gave them 5 possible answers.
- Do more marketing
- Lift your service levels
- Be more transparent with your pricing
- Focus more on the future rather than the past
- Offer more services that help me improve my business.
If we bunch no. 2 & 3 together (service levels and pricing) then we get 31%. I am going to call those the ‘Service’ answers. If we bunch 3 & 4 together (better advice and valuable services) we get 61%. This would be the ‘Services’ answers. A staggering 92% said that they want more from you and they want to improve your customer service.
The business community has spoken loud and clear. Your clients want more help, more communication and better customer service. I know you’re busy (doing compliance) and that can no longer be an excuse. We’re all busy and time allocation is a priority not a resource. You must get a systematic program in place for contacting your clients. You must offer more services that really help your clients’ financial condition.
You have financial intimacy right now with your clients. That’s why they stay with you. You know things about them that very few people do. If you want to keep them then you need to increase the level of financial intimacy. You need to improve the customer service and you need to broaden your service offering. Since I started in this profession in 1994 I have been saying the same thing in many different ways. Be proactive and add value. If you don’t, someone else will.
You can get the full report on what else the 428 business owners said about their Accountants by clicking here.
We just finished a survey of 428 small to medium business owners. We asked them a whole series of questions regarding what they want from their Accountant. they way they wanted to be communicated with. How they wanted to be contacted and what services they are looking for. I am going to publish a few of the findings here. You can get the full report for free by clicking here.
One of the early set of questions was around communication. We were specifically looking for how well Accountants communicate now and what their clients want. With face-to-face communication you can see by the table below that 62% want more face-to-face contact. Of course, provided there is value in the meeting.
The key is that there is value in the meeting. You are busy and your clients are busy. If there is value then (judging by 428 responses) your clients are receptive to meeting you more frequently. To create value why don’t you do a brainstorm meeting in your office on the client. Come up with some ideas for improvement and take those ideas to the client.
Face-to-face meetings take time. A phone call does not. A touch base ‘how’s it going call’ is seriously valuable and shows that you are interested in their affairs. As you can see below a staggering 40% of clients NEVER get a call from their Accountant. What a wasted opportunity to add value and maybe find a new project. More than half got a call never or once per year.
I ask Accountants all the time if they have good relationships with their clients. An overwhelming YES is the response. To create a relationship it requires communication. How can you honestly have a good relationship with someone if you only meet with them 1-2 times per year and speak with them once per year? Just imagine if you only spoke to your life partner (assuming you have one) at home once or twice a year. How would the relationship be? For some of you… better!
So how much communication is too much? Just by asking the target market some still say (12%) that they do not want any phone communication from you. It’s interesting that 40% do not get a call now yet 12% do not want a call. So I am thinking thinking that 28% of the ‘I don’t get a call now’ group do actually want a call. The vast majority in our survey (78%) think a proactive call anything from 1 to 4 times per year would be a good idea. So call it 2 or 3 times per year.
This is not rocket science. The service levels are so bad in the Accounting profession that anything simple like a proactive phone call to ‘check in’ can make the world of difference to the perception of you, your business and your services. You can get the full report for free by clicking here.
With cloud accounting implemented with your clients you now have access to more ‘real time’ financial data than ever before. With the data being so up to date there is an amazing opportunity for you to add value with new services.
You can even take it up a notch and get daily and automatic ‘KPI feeds’ direct to your device (laptop, smartphone or tablet) that will tell you the story as to what is going on – good and bad.
Now that you have all this data what are you going to do with it? I think you have a duty of care and obligation to advise the clients how to improve the data. If you are living by the mantra of “all clients are buying all services that help them achieve their goals” then it’s not selling new services. It’s servicing your clients properly.
Here is a list of 15 new services that you could offer:
- Cash flow analysis – where does the money go
- Profit improvement program
- Monitoring & accountability program
- Debt re-structuring
- Capital raising
- Interest reduction service
- Waste audit
- Revenue improvement strategies
- Creditor analysis & negotiation
- Product profitability analysis
- Debtor management service
- Tax planning & minimisation
- Business Planning
- Inventory management system
All are valuable services that will make a significant impact to your client’s financial future. By ‘staying close to the numbers’ you have a better chance of the client buying the service. With good systemisation of the services you can have Accountants of all levels deliver the service – not just the partners.
You will need to learn some sales skills on how to have your clients buy them. You may also need some new tools so you can systemise the services.
To show you how to sell the services and which tools to use I am running a full day seminar called ‘Capitalising on the Cloud’. I am presenting it in 13 cities starting tomorrow (March 19). For more information and registration details visit www.cloudseminar.com.au for more details.
I have this little test I do with Accountants to see if they are servicing their clients properly. Here it is.
Grab any clients’ income statement for 3 years, their balance sheet for 3 years and then explain the ‘story’ of the client to 2 other Accountants in your office. So tell them what the client does, how they do business, what their structure is etc. The other 2 Accountants are then to brainstorm (and you can be part of it as well) the answers to these 8 questions:
- What ideas do you have to help this client grow revenue or wealth?
- What ideas do you have to help this client increase their profit?
- What ideas do you have to help this client understand and improve their cashflow?
- What ideas do you have to help this client protect their assets?
- What ides do you have to help this client with succession planning or selling their business?
- What ideas do you have to minimise tax for this client in the future?
- What ideas do you have to help this client to financially retire?
- What other opportunities are there to provide extra services to this client that they are not already using?
Don’t spend more than 30 minutes per client brainstorming. When you do I can guarantee that you have ideas (services) that you can take to your clients that will help them in some of these 8 areas.
These are all needs (services they should be buying) that are currently unmet. They do not know that you know the answers. The client certainly does not know what you know – otherwise they would have done it.
When you do this with all of your clients you will find that 100% of clients have unmet needs. Does it mean they will buy them from you? Not necessarily – but at least you should give them a shot at buying the service(s). Not offering additional services to your clients (especially when you know they need them) is doing your clients a complete dis-service.
You must service your clients properly. If you do not then there are plenty of ‘hungry’ accounting firms that will.