Asking questions

I’m not an accountant; however, I work with accountants and their clients every day.

Over the course of my professional career, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of accountants (as well as the other advising professions of law, management consultancy, engineering and the like) assume too much about what their clients want. This is not a criticism, simply an observation.  The secret of excellence is the provision of accounting services is to fully understand what the client wants. This understanding is achieved through two simple things: (i) asking better questions and getting better answers and, (ii) listening to what the client is saying (and not saying).

At the moment I’m currently writing a book titled, “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” which will be published by Thomson Reuters in April next year. The book consists of 25 interviews with people who buy external accounting services for the businesses they either own or manage. Usually the interviewee is the CFO or Finance director. The businesses I’ve targeted for the book are from the SME part of the market, which in my humble view is far more interesting than the big end of town.

For each interview I have stuck to the same core questions with the occasional tangent. These questions are:

1.     What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant?

2.     How important is technical expertise in an accountant?

3.     Is price and quality a trade off? Does it need to be?

4.     When looking at engaging a new accountant, how important is their firm’s brand to you?

5.     Tell me about a time when you received the best service from an accounting firm. What made it the best?

6.     Tell me about a time when you received terrible service from an accounting firm. What could they have done differently?

7.     If you were to hire a new accountant/accounting firm what are the things you look for?

8.     What is your current experience with your accountant?

9.     What has prompted you in the past, or would prompt you in the future, to change accountants? How often do you change    accountants? What steps do you take to find a new accountant?

10.  Do you prefer time-based billing or a fixed price for service or a retainer arrangement?

11.  What can accountants do to improve their service to you?

12.  Are accountants good listeners? How can accountants be better listeners?

13.  What role does your accountant play in your business? What role would you like them to play?

14.  What’s the smallest change your accountant could make that would have the biggest impact on you?

15.  What do you value most about your accountant? Why?

16.  With the pervasive use of online technologies should accountants give you the option to interact with them via the web?

17.  Do you see areas such as such as tax, accounting, superannuation and audit as a commodity or as a value proposition?

Well that’s enough for now.

See you next time around.

James E