Why Accountants Clients Complain About Service? and 3-T Formula to Treat The Root Causes

A majority of accountants believe that they lose clients because of pricing. But the main reason why people change their CPA is “poor client service, inattentiveness,” according to seven in 10 clients surveyed by Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management.

According to “What SMBs Want” Survey conducted by The Sleeter Group, 3 out of 4 of small-business owners have changed their CPA or accounting firm at least in part because the firm only gave them “reactive service,” instead of proactive advice.

Why clients of accountants complain about poor service?

Insights from various surveys indicate a strong need for accountants to focus on client service. It is one thing to produce and deliver work but…

It is altogether a different world to deliver what clients expect as a service.

Clients complain not just because there is a deficiency in service but mainly because they do not receive what they expect from CPAs, of the quality they expect and at the time they expect it. In other words, complaints arise due to a mismatch in expectations.

While the promises made in the “sales process” and through the “scope of engagement” can be key reasons why expectation mismatch can arise (provided of course that the accountants deliver reasonably good quality services), the greatest expectations mismatch arises because the real “value” of what accountants do for the clients is not communicated clearly enough. And when this fact is not recognized, you fall prey to the inevitable Dogma that clients are (always) complaining.

DOGMA 5: THE “CLIENTS ARE COMPLAINING” DOGMA

When it keeps repeating, you start to form a belief that it is in the nature of clients to keep complaining. And that is what creates this Dogma.

First and foremost, while it is a negative thing if a client is complaining, it is also a positive thing because only those clients complain who do NOT want to leave and all that he/she wants from you is to “fix things” for him/her. You want to immediately look for the root causes of why the particular complaint/s have emerged and treat those root causes. E.g. If a client complains about not receiving the delivery of financial statements even after the date agreed has passed, you can stretch yourself to prepare and deliver them the next day, but that is akin to treating symptoms. Why did the delay happen? Is it a one-off event due to some unforeseen issues or is it that your internal processes to plan the work have not been in place? Or is it that there was no “service level agreement” in the engagement letter and the client just called in on 1st Day of the Month asking for financial statements?

The “3-T Formula” to Treat The Root Causes That Create Client Complaints :

The First T:

Tell them WHAT you WILL DO for them. And WHEN will you do it.

The scope of engagement needs to provide service measurability factors, not just a (often required) legalized verbiage. It is very difficult for most people to make sense from the verbose legal agreements.

The Second T:

Tell them what you DID for them.

It IS difficult for most people to refer to the base documents such as agreements and engagement letters. Every time a service is delivered, it is prudent for accountants to say something like:

Dear Client,

As per the scope of our engagement, I am pleased to deliver the following:

  • Financial Statements
  • A to-do list for you

Not only does it “reinforce the expectations” but it also makes clients focus on what they should be doing after they receive the service delivery from you. Remember, “how-to” books and “lists” (e.g. 7 things that….) i.e. the “what”, are the most popular contents out there.

The Third T:

Tell them what you just TOLD them but from an accountant’s perspective.

This is perhaps the most important part of “cementing” your relationship with clients, to leave very little chance for clients to complain. Simply adding the following when you deliver your service to the clients can make things better:

  • My observations on your financial statements (or whatever the service you deliver)

E.g.

Over the last quarter, your average account receivable has increased from 35 days to 55 days. At the average monthly account payables you now have and considering the fact that you have to pay your bills within 25 days on an average, it is resulting in cash flow financing of X Dollars, which means paying interest (or opportunity) cost of $ X per day / per month.

Notice that the last part is the “advisory” that comes from your specialist knowledge and is presented measurably.

Are you a CPA/Accounting Firm Owner? Please share your thoughts on why clients complain and how you take care of those complaints.

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