Faster turnaround makes for happier clients and employees, while reducing your costs.
I was encouraged to meet so many of you last month. My thanks for your feedback and interest in these articles.
Last month we looked at the importance of timeliness of service. I would like to continue along the same lines and give some practical tips on what you could do to improve.
Some suggestions to help you achieve a timelier turnaround:
Contact clients six or eight weeks before their financial year end and give them a check-list of what you require to complete the preparation of their tax or financial statements. You will probably start with a standard check-list but this will need personalising.
Maybe the last task on a job is to update the list of client-required information for the subsequent year. You should:
1. Indicate a date when you expect to receive these records – an ‘appointment’ for the records to come into your “waiting room”.
2. Call or maybe text a reminder two weeks before confirming the date the client has agreed to provide the records.
3. On receipt of the records have someone check that the records are complete.
Write to the client and send the list of records you have received with a provisional date for the review of the draft accounts (that is a scary move for some firms). How would you feel if you ordered a meal in a restaurant and it was 30 minutes before the starter arrived? And then another 45 minutes before the main course arrived? That happened to me once in a five-star hotel and after lodging a complaint and receiving no feedback, I asked to meet with the manager.
Thankfully (for him) he was fully briefed on the complaint and he volunteered that the standard of service was unacceptable. Without me asking, he offered a complimentary meal to my wife and I that evening in the hotel’s best restaurant.
Poor timeliness cost the hotel. Is there a cost for poor timelines for the accountant? I think so. Poor timeliness results in a higher level of lock up (debtors and work in progress). Poor timeliness gives the client less time to be aware of what has to be saved for future tax liabilities.
On the other hand, when everyone is aware of the importance of timeliness, effort will focus on performance and all the above negatives will be reversed.
Timeliness provides the opportunity to do some more up-to-date tax planning or management accounts.
1. Have staff schedule review finalisation work with the manager and partner.
2. Prepare firm-wide reports that evidence the firm’s performance each month.
3. Partners: when you do your MBWA (managing by wandering
about) ask staff how they are getting on time-wise.
4. I was working with one client and staff were surveyed following a retreat. One of the key issues raised was the problem experienced with clients not responding promptly with answers to queries or supplying additional information.
Also, staff were uncertain whether to make contact by email or telephone. Consequently, a standard policy was introduced which has been very effectively implemented. The time taken to complete jobs has reduced by more than 20%. And they are still improving.
We seek to do all we can to complete the work undertaken for clients as soon as possible. After the client has provided the necessary records it is possible that responding to our requests for help may not be top of the clients’ “must do” list. This is especially the case if the work does not start within a few days of the records being received in the office.
Without us harassing our client the following procedures should be observed by staff working on the job:
1. Check that the job has been booked in and that an initial review has been completed confirming that all records have been received.
2. When you start the job please call our client and advise them that you will be working on the preparation of their financial statements.
3. When you identify a requirement for further information make sure you have done all you can to collate as many points as possible, then call the client. Introduce yourself and ask: “is this a convenient time to talk?” When you have the client’s permission detail what you require and confirm, if necessary, that you will put this in writing.
Most importantly, ask the client for confirmation of when the information will be available. Your request should be framed politely, for example: “Would it be possible to have this information by…” If the client feels unable to agree to our timeline, ask the client to state when they expect to be able to provide the information. Always end calls with a ‘thank you’.
4. It is our recommendation not to call clients more than twice without being put through to the relevant person. After two calls we recommend you email the client and advise “I have called in order to ask for further information to enable me to progress the completion of your financial statements/tax return, would it be possible for you to give me a call on… in order to briefly discuss the further information we require?”
Does this work every time? No. But this policy has seen a significant reduction in elapsed time to complete the job and an improvement in staff morale as the frustration of having four or more jobs in progress at any one time has been greatly reduced.
You will have to accept that this will not always work as there will always be clients that do not cooperate. Having said that, maybe they are the clients that should perhaps look for another service provider.
Author: Mark Lloydbottom is an author and consultant, Mark Lloydbottom Consulting.