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A word from the streets

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that over the last few months I’ve been working on a book titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” The book is scheduled to be published by Thomson Reuters in May/June this year. Its is a series of interviews of 25 people who buy accounting services.

When I’ve mentioned the book to friends, clients, business associates and people I bump into, almost without exception, they have asked me the obvious question, “Why?”

Since the why question has been asked of me so many times I have developed an almost scripted response that is built around one  statement, “Most advisers be they accountants, lawyers, management consultants or whoever, fall into the trap (more often that not) of assuming what their client or prospective client really wants”

I then go on to unpack with my audience at the time (usually consisting of 1 or 2 people who I have cornered somewhere!) why the above statement tends to be fact than fiction. Lets face it, the adviser in question may well be a partner in a big accounting or law firm, a director in a management consultancy or a principal within a marketing agency. They are, for all intents and purposes, a subject matter expert; they have deep technical knowledge, years of industry experience, well developed networks within their discipline, proven methodologies and processes and the list goes on.

It then becomes a little more understandable to my audience that advisers may, by default rather than be design, take on the mantle of “I know best” viz their client.

Set against the above  explanation, my audience start to nod their heads slowly in understanding. My business audience is usually one of two groups: a member of the adviser community or a client of that community.

If a thought bubble were to appear above the adviser(s)  heads it would read something like, “Oh … that’s what he means. Hmmm … have I fallen into that trap?”

On the other side of the coin, the client thought bubble reads, “Yep I know how that feels. Why on earth do they ask me questions and not listen to what I have to say?”

The above of course is a little exaggerated to make the point. If you’re an adviser, irrespective of the discipline, what does your thought bubble say? I’d love to know. Leave a comment and please tell me and others.

See you next time,

James E

A client named Elliot

The other day I was editing one of the chapters in the book I’m working on with Thomson Reuters titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” I can’t tell you the name of the CFO or his organisation I interviewed (due to current release restrictions) but I can share some valuable insights to come out of the meeting. Lets call this chap Elliot.

Elliot, until about a year ago, worked with an iconic muliti-national corporation in a senior finance role; he is now CFO with an Australian-based business with lets say a $100m+ revenue. One could say the organisations Elliot had worked with were almost opposite ends of the business size spectrum.

Elliot is in his forties and has had more than 20+ years finance experience. He has worked with a wide range of professional advisors – accountants, lawyers, technologists, management consultants and the like. You name it, Elliot has worked with them. Elliot is no plebe; he is an assertive senior executive who has a wealth of expertise in the finance and accounting fields. He is certainly no one’s fool and know what he wants.

Set against this background I was both surprised and delighted to hear him express his delight when working with external advisers who “get it.” Elliot gets a kick out of advisers who do the following often and well:

1. Communicate early and often.

If there is a problem tell me (the client) all about it. The sooner I know about it the more options we both have to solve it. Towards the end of a project you & I have much less options to work with and I will be less happy.

2. Share new ideas freely

No idea is stupid. The more ideas the better. I want my advisers to share with me ideas they have learnt from their other clients in industries which may share common elements with ours. They actually do me (and other clients for that matter) a real disservice if they don’t share their thoughts and ideas to innovate and improve our current processes.

3. Work together to achieve a common goal

I want to know that I have the full support from my advisers. Their fee should be a by-product of the relationship they have me (and the business) to work together to make our organisation better for the owners/investors, customers, management, staff  and suppliers.

This is what Elliot expects and when it is delivered he is one happy CFO!

See you next post,

James E

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