Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

What Clients Wish You Already Knew

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October 13, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Shhh! Can you hear that? It’s the sound of your clients trying to tell you what they’d really like from you.

I’ve been asking corporate accountants, bookkeepers, finance executives and managers how much they like (or don’t like) their current accounting firms. And the results could be a wake-up call for many accounting firms.

Last week, inWhat’s the ‘Secret Sauce’ for Success?, we heard from accountants who had recently landed new clients for their winning recipes.  This week, we’re looking at the question of client satisfaction from the other side, the client side.


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Changing accounting firms, of course, is horrendously difficult for companies. So they avoid it as much as possible. But I’m hearing a disconcerting amount of disappointment with the quality of service they are receiving.

To be sure, few finance managers are concerned about the accuracy, integrity, objectivity or competence of their CPAs. The problem isn’t in the accounting. It’s in the delivery.

Certainly, there are clients like Chris Hartrich at Northbrook, Ill.–based Omeda Communications. He is wildly happy with his company’s new CPA firm, “much more so than our prior firm.” He hails the new firm as “very responsive” and loves their “timely service.”

Like many corporate clients, Hartrich wanted a firm that could provide “attentive, cost effective, proactive service.” But they also needed to “understand the business issues and bring best-practice suggestions to address them.”

Still, some finance managers in corporations, government, not-for-profits and educational institutions are telling me that they would be “highly likely” to recommend their current accounting firm to an interested friend or colleague. So if you listen intently to the finance managers who fall into the less than “highly likely” to recommend category, you may be able to learn even more about what it takes to retain and satisfy a customer these days.

Take, for instance, a senior finance manager at a mid-sized business in Germantown, Md. She is looking for a “proactive, accurate partner who offers a wide range of services and knows the industry and business model.” If you want this account, you’d better be positioned “low-cost on bread-and-butter services” and “save the higher fees for specialized value-added services.”

Another corporate CPA simply expects “good service, advice and a fair price,” which sounds pretty basic. But too often he sees firms falling short in “really understanding the client’s perspective.”

“Get the job done, on time and on budget,” says a senior staffer at a Fortune 1000 company. And who could argue with that?

Another corporate finance executive wants a “better attitude from the CPA.” He feels as though his company’s accounting firm is more of an adversary than a friendly advisor. “We are not the enemy.”

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Copyright © 2009CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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