The CPA Manager: How to Have Happy Clients

By Cottle, David | The CPA Journal, November 1992 | Go to article overview

The CPA Manager: How to Have Happy Clients


Cottle, David, The CPA Journal


There are three key aspects to managing your client relationships: 1) manage the clients; 2) manage the tangibles; and 3) manage your people.

MANAGE THE CLIENTS

An important factor in increasing your chances for a client-relations win is to help the client form realistic expectations of the nature of the service you will perform, the events they will experience, and the outcome you will achieve. The following are a few ways to exercise a little more control over new clients' expectations, as well as those of old clients.

DON'T OVER PROMISE OR OVERSELL

Theodore Levitt in The Marketing Imagination stated, "If you promise the moon, it is reasonable for customers to expect it." Making idealistic promises may get you more business initially, but they raise unrealistic expectations and unbalance the service/quality equation. Do you remember Holiday Inn's "no surprises" advertising campaign of 1986? It promised, "The best surprise is no surprise." They dropped it because it raised unrealistic expectations that the company could not deliver. CPAs who over promise and underdeliver create client disappointment resulting in a loss of current business and future referrals.

For a CPA, it is better to exceed client expectations than to let clients down. Be careful what you say to clients when explaining what you hope to accomplish. Don't promise the client more than you and your organization can deliver.

THE SECRET OF HIS SUCCESS. One successful practitioner shared the simple secret of his success: "Get the clients' reports to them at least one day before they expect them." If he can deliver the report to the client by the 17th of the month, he promises it for the 19th. Then, even if he runs into trouble, he delivers it on the 18th and still exceeds the client's expectations.

BEWARE OF THE EXTREMIST CLIENT.

There are two kinds of extremist clients: those who think you can do no wrong, and those who are prone to blame you for everything wrong. Either way, you're likely to lose when you deal with them. The hallmark of extremist clients is abdication of their responsibility to cooperate with you to ensure the successful outcome of your professional efforts.

The first kind of extremist clients has an almost messianic faith in you. They have unrealistic expectations of what you can accomplish. They know that you are not going to let them down even when your prognosis is not good. The client flatters our ego. You think: "They really have confidence in me." You are being set up for a fall, because the client's expectations are usually unrealistically high. The following are a few warning signs:

* They are unsophisticated regarding the profession and the expectation gap is obvious;

* They think you are a genius; and

* They think computers or some other technology will provide a quick fix to their problems.

The other kind of extremist clients will not be satisfied no matter what you do. Named after Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street, they complain about everything. The following are a few identifying marks:

* They had unrealistic expectations of their former accountants;

* They change accountants frequently;

* They bad-mouth their former accountant unnecessarily;

* They are unreasonably demanding;

* They are chronic complainers; and

They tend to procrastinate, provide fragmented information, or incomplete data, and still expect you to achieve a good result.

You may be able to educate Pollyannas and bring them down to earth, but there is not much you can do with Oscars except refer them to your worst enemy.

PLAY OFFENSE, NOT DEFENSE. A key to having a happy client is to anticipate a client's expectations. As soon as you know about, or anticipate a difficulty, take the initiative and call your client. Don't wait for the client to call you. For example, when a job will be delayed, when the cost is more than you originally estimated, or when you or your staff made a mistake that may annoy the client, don't wait for the client to call you. …

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