A survey this past week from Wasp Barcode–a client of mine who makes asset management systems (I am not being compensated to write this.)–caught my attention. Among other things, its biggest reveal was that 88 percent of the small business owners they surveyed reported being happy with their outside accountants.
88 percent! What is this madness? That’s almost nine of 10 business owners. Are 88 percent of your customers happy with you? I’m pretty sure that 88 percent of my company’s 600-plus clients are probably not “happy” with us. I’m happy if at least half of our clients aren’t firing us! (Hey–we’re in the technology business… need I say more?).
How is it that such an overwhelming number of business owners are happy with their accountants? I’m a Certified Public Accountant. I know these people. CPAs are smart people. But they’re not exactly the life of the party. They’re not the most technology-oriented people either. (See my rant about this here.) They can be ornery, especially during tax season. Some of them can be hard to reach. None of them run call centers or help lines. They usually don’t have “mission statements.” Few I know advertise or take part in big marketing promotions. Yet you never hear about CPAs when people talk about customer service. They’re not bitterly hated like Comcast or Goldman Sachs, but then again they’re not fawningly admired like Apple or Walt Disney either. And yet, 88 percent of the business owners surveyed were “happy” with them. Is this a mistake?
No, it’s no mistake. I get it why so many people are happy with their accountants. It’s really because of four big reasons.
1. First and foremost, accountants (particularly CPAs) know what they’re doing.
To become a CPA in my home state you need five years of college credits followed by experience working in a public firm, and then you have to pass an examination. And no, the agony is not over. Every two years after that, until you ultimately die of boredom, you must sit through 80 hours of continuing professional education credits and if you think it’s tough sitting through tax classes in July, try sitting in them with a bunch of CPAs all around you. I’m more of a sales guy, so this is torture! But I have to admit: Most CPAs I know really know their stuff. They’re competent. And in the end, it’s about doing a quality job. All the marketing money in the world can be spent GarageBand for PC Windowstouting you and your company as the greatest thing out there, but if you don’t know what you’re doing your customers will ultimately hate you. CPAs know what they’re doing. And that’s one reason why 88 percent of their clients are happy with them.
2. Next, they solve problems.
Everyone, particularly business owners, hates taxes. We all fear an audit. We get stressed when an IRS notice is sent to us, no matter how innocuous. (And please give me extra credit for being a CPA and using big words like “innocuous.”) Accountants perform a task for us that we prefer not to, and no, it’s not taking our place at the in-laws for Thanksgiving. Nice try. It’s doing our taxes. They solve a nasty, annoying, painful, frustrating … oh I’m running out of words that describe how much we hate this … problem, and we have to deal with it every year. There are companies that provide fun stuff like movies and the Internet and smartphones, and there are companies that take away pain. When a company removes a painful problem from my life, I am in their debt. Hence, accountants make their clients happy by doing this.
3. And, yet… they do it infrequently.
Which is also good. We love our college-aged kids, but after a week of them being home on spring break we love saying good-bye to them too. Things in life are good in small doses. Too much of anything tends to spoil the relationship. Most of us deal with our accountants once or twice a year. Hopefully there’s a summer planning session. (You DO plan, right?) And then we have the spring ritual where we sign our tax forms, wonder how we have no money when the form says we have taxable income and then consider either moving to South America or joining the Libertarian Party. And then… your accountant is gone, not to be seen again for a few blissful months. Absence makes the heart grow fonder–and appreciation grow larger. So take a page from the CPA playbook: Try to stay close to your customers… but not that close. Sometimes, to provide a great level of customer service, less is more.
4. Finally, accountants have an intimate relationship with their clients.
Ever call a large company for service, get asked three times for the same information by an automated system that only understand about 70 percent of what you’re saying, and then get an (arguably) live person on the phone from God knows where who has no idea what your problem is and, worse, gives you the impression that they could care less? Oh yes, you’ve been there. That is the core of lousy customer service. But when you speak to your accountant, he or she she can almost read your mind because, let’s face it, all you think about is money! Good CPAs are totally familiar with their clients’ financial details, and because they do taxes, they’re usually very familiar with their clients’ personal information too. (Can I write off that vacation? Am I eligible for a home office deduction? Can I just sell my kids and take the loss?) Good service providers really understand their customers’ businesses, problems and what’s going on in their lives. Customer service is not just having a good website or being active on Facebook. It’s about having a relationship with your customers. Relationships still count, even in 2015. Crazy thought, eh?
So no, you don’t need fancy advertising, high tech systems, mission statements and call centers to perform great customer service. You just need to do a few things that your accountant is doing. Learn from them. The vast majority of their clients–88 percent to be exact–can’t be wrong, can they?
Isler Northwest LLC is a firm of certified public accountants and business advisors based in Portland, Oregon. Our local, regional, and global resources, our expertise, and our emphasis on innovative solutions and continuity create value for our clients. Our service goal at Isler NW is to earn our clients’ trust in us as their primary business and financial advisors.
1300 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201