Will the real client please stand up?
By Paul Wouters - Director, Chief Operating Officer, Taurus Group
In the many years of providing a professional service I have been puzzled by how many accountants see the IRD as the client, not the person or organisation paying the bills.
This doesn't make sense when it's the managing director, CFO or business owner who is toiling to make money and the one who needs support the most.
Yes, as accountants we are the compliance link between client and government, making sure all rules are satisfied.
But for us it's the client, and the relationship we build with the client, that's all important. It's the difference between dealing with an institution and a person.
At Taurus we have a very good relationship with the IRD meaning we can deal with even the most complex tax issues but client service is the real point of difference and value between good and great accounting.
Most accountants will complete business and personal accounts annually, give the client news about tax and then move on to the next client. The client digests the news, pays any outstanding amounts and goes back to work until the next year. And this is the extent of the relationship.
This isn't good service however, the accountants who excel at client relationships do all this and then go the extra mile, provide advice, hints and tips, are available, whenever and wherever, and have some personality as well.
At Taurus we've spent almost 25 years doing as much as possible to develop our approach to client and personal service, and while we feel we do well at building lasting and close relationships, we always know we can do better.
We believe accountants who are very good at client service do the following:
- Build relationships not just an annual service – if you provide support throughout the year, you will get to know your client's business, have more ideas and give better advice.
- Be accountable – a flat structure is best and means the person who does the work is accountable but also has the support of a team with years' of experience.
- Go wide – don't just consider the client's business, read about their industry and keep in touch with news. A well-informed advisor is invaluable.
- Listen, listen and listen some more - as the saying goes: "we have two ears and one mouth, which gives you an idea how much each should be used." Listening breeds understanding.
- Surprise – ask yourself the question, "what can I do to build a stronger client relationship?" It could be sharing an interesting bit of competitor news, highlighting a potential investment opportunity or sending an invitation for the next Super 14 match. Whatever it is, think about your clients and do something, so they think about you.
The most important job for any accountant is to be a support for clients, make the annual process of reporting accounts as easy as possible and provide extra advice so they can make more money.
J.C. Penney, the American entrepreneur and businessman, once said "every great business is built on friendship," and at Taurus, we believe this to be true.