The importance of customer focus.

Author:Brownlow, Barry R.
Position:Accountants and their clients - Includes related article on enlisting expert services to help clients
 
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By the early nineties, our three-partner firm in Ontario, Canada, had realized that we had to change the way we did business to remain competitive into the next millennium. There were more public accounting firms fighting for clients and more consulting firms, accounting software companies and banks threatening to erode our client base.

Our firm's goal was not merely to survive but to thrive, to create a stronger firm and to make substantial improvements to our long-term profitability. Most important, we wanted to learn how to serve our clients in a comprehensive way, to surpass their expectations and to have them endorse us to prospective clients.

We met our goals by focusing on our clients' needs and giving them what they wanted. To do this we went one-on-one with each of our clients to find out what services they considered most valuable to them. This article discusses the communication process that assists us in understanding our clients' current and future needs. It also explains how we have developed new services that not only meet those needs, but also differentiate our firm from the competition.

WHAT ARE YOUR NEEDS?

Our first step was to identify the factors integral to maintaining satisfied clients. To do this, we devised a client service plan and a client satisfaction review.

The client service plan. At least once a year we sit down with our clients and complete a client service plan that outlines their goals for the next two to three years and lists the services they require from our firm. The plan includes a checklist of our firm's products and services the client uses to determine what services are of most value to his or her business (see checklist on page 64). This checklist ensures our client is aware of our complete array of services and gives the client a chance to tell us what it needs as opposed to what we think it needs. The checklist also is useful at pointing out the products and services that are less important to clients.

Once we have determined what each client's needs are, we draft a client service plan that acts as our engagement letter. The plan outlines what we are supposed to do over the next 12 months, who will do it, when it will be done and how much it will cost. For example, it could call for the completion of financial statements and tax returns in February, a quarterly performance review to be performed in January, April, July and October, a detailed corporate tax review in August and two personal financial plans to be completed in September. The partner in charge of the day-to-day management of that client is responsible for overseeing that the services promised in the client service plan are delivered.

The client satisfaction review. We rely on the client satisfaction review to continually improve our relationship...

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