Show Me That ‘Cha Love Me (Issue 442)

In which we're reminded to call even our smallest clients at least once per year to check in. "I'm really disappointed in how your firm has taken care of us," I said to the managing partner.

“Mary has done a great job preparing and filing our corporate income taxes and my personal income taxes, and not once has she or anybody else from the firm called us in the eight years you’ve been doing that to find out how were doing and what’s going on.”

“Well,” he said. “Mary is a technician, a tax specialist, and as soon as you sent her your message indicating that you had different needs, she notified me and I called you. We are very happy to help you. We just didn’t know that you had these issues to deal with.”

“I understand,” I responded. “I bear some responsibility here; I never called you as things were changing. On the other hand, you never called me either. And neither did Bill (the partner who brought me into the firm, originally) during the years he was still with the firm.”

“Be that as it may,” I continued. “I am interviewing several accounting firms now to determine with which of them we would like to do business for the next few years. The purpose of this call is for me to interview YOU to find out more about your firm. I really don’t know much about you.”

We will leave this accounting firm and move to another one. I am fully confident that the firm we have been with could take excellent care of us from a technical point of view and it would be very convenient to continue having Mary do our taxes since she is familiar with us. We will leave because nobody at the firm ever called us to find out how we were changing, and because Mary (for all of her tax expertise) missed obvious signals on our corporate income tax returns that our business model had changed and that it might be a good idea for somebody to call us to ask a half dozen simple questions.

Why did they not call us? I can think of a number of reasons including our size – as a business, we fall into the bottom third of our current firm’s clients by size and needs – and our annual routine with the firm.

Why did I not call them? For a significant period of time, our needs remained fairly constant and, beyond for tax preparation, there was little to do. However, in the last three years, as our firm has grown significantly and our business model has changed, new needs emerged. We’ve dealt with them successfully on a one-off basis until now. Now, we need an “integrated solution” to address the issues.

So how many businesses like us do you have in your portfolio of clients? The ones who seem to be “steady-state?” The ones who never call you? The ones who soldier along taking care of the issues by themselves even though you and your firm could probably accelerate their progress toward their goals through an intervention? With how many of those customers are you vulnerable to loss – to losing them as clients because you didn’t pay attention, because you didn’t ask the basic questions every year, because you just ASSUMED…

In Canada, we’ve just started the new fiscal year. In the US, that’s two months away. This is exactly the right time to call through your entire portfolio of clients to ask questions like, “what has changed in your business in the last year, what do you expect will change in your business in the upcoming year, and where do you feel that your current systems and approaches are not giving you what you need to move your business to the next level?”

Sure, I could have called my accounting firm and, looking back on it, I feel a little silly that I didn’t. I’m now fixing that by moving to a new firm with which I expect to have a very close relationship over the next several years. On the other hand, they never called me to show me that they loved me.

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