How to Become a Retail CPA
Rick Strombeck, Orlando CPA, says that first-time CPA firm clients are the least desirable. He'd rather have clients who have been to other CPAs first. "Better to have them get familiar with our profession, and have their expectations adjusted from our peers, so they can appreciate us more." Spot on.
Ours is a "Retail CPA Firm," a term I coined to denote the difference in way we conduct our business as opposed to the usual firm. Our goal is to approximate the same powerful experience one receives by going to a premier retailer, such as Publix here in the Southeast, "Where Shopping is a Pleasure."
In fact, just this morning, we received the following unsolicited email from a client:
FYI, we received our tax package in the mail. You folks at Allen Boress CPA do an exceptional job and I thought you'd want to know how much we appreciate what you do. Many thanks!
I was fortunate to have been raised in various retail environments in childhood until well after I passed the exam at age 25. Starting at age 13, I started in what I had hoped would be my family's career path: Pharmacy. I loved working in the neighborhood drug store: I loved the smells and how the pharmacist helped people, giving advice one might get from a physician.
Next retail exposure was selling men's clothing in high school. In addition, both parents were retailers. I loved seeing the direct relationship between my behavior and dollars in my pocket. I worked at Dad's Formal Wear business and wound up owning a young men's clothing store in Chicago with two other CPAs, Jordy and Sandy Rubens of blessed memory. The retail industry infected my attitude toward my clients as a CPA.
Retailers have a completely different outlook on the client servicing and retention process. Successful ones always put their feet in the shoes of the buyer, in order to make and service the sale. This is contrary to the consensus of clients we've picked up from other CPAs over the years. Most CPA firms appear more concerned with getting the work out and charging the most possible, rather than of being of service to the client.
Typical feedback came most recently when I was at my physician's office. She is one of the single most prominent and best-known people in her profession in our target market. As it was immediately after April 15, she commented on how glad she was to get her taxes done in a timely manner and appreciated the way we deal with her—as she does with her own patients.
Then she related her previous CPA relationship. I have heard variations of the same stories repeated by different clients over the years, and will listen as if I have not heard it before. It is part of the Retail CPA Philosophy: we actually listen to and communicate with our clients. I knew it would make her feel better to get it off her mind.
"I still cannot believe the way they treated me," she said. "I had been referred to these people by successful businesspeople here locally. After March 1, I started getting concerned when they weren't responding to my phone calls about whether I needed to file an extension or not. Finally, on April 15, I got through to the partner on my account. He actually screamed at me to print out a form from the internet and send in a check with $27,000 immediately by certified mail! I still can't believe it." And that had been six years earlier.
Here's how Retail CPAs runs their business:
- Retail CPAs realize that there is no requirement the clients return to their firm, just like in a retail store. Every client (except those that need to be fired, but often aren't) is a precious gem.
- They sit down with their clients and review their info and suggest ways to save money in the current year and moving forward.
- They discuss their clients' legal situation as it relates to wills, trusts, gifts.
- They review their clients' fiscal performance during the year and discuss clients' progress toward their financial goals.
- They ask about their clients' family, vacations, etc.
- Their notes indicate personal items and issues about their clients that they can follow up on in their next communication, such as illnesses, pending grandchildren, etc.
- They do not burn out their preparers or their partners.
- They share—not hog—client relationships, leveraging themselves to better serve clients and not demanding all communications go through them.
- They call all their clients to give them sufficient warning as to whether or not they might need to file an extension and whether they are returning.
- They fire clients who abuse their staff, are very late pays, complain about fees, and are whiners.
- They communicate with their own staff to see how they are holding up during the busy time of the year. How is their health? Do they need an additional day off perhaps to rest up or spend with the family?
- By being "with" the client, they know there might be the add-on sale or referral to the estate attorney for wills and living trusts, to the financial planner for needed assistance with insurance and investments.
- They show value by telling clients exactly how they accomplished the project.
- They are as up-to-date as possible on those issues and topics that concern their client base.
- They will do a mass email alert if something hits their desks that the client should know about. For example, most recently, the IRS was supposedly calling people with past due balances demanding immediate wire transfers. It was a fraud, but some people fell for it.
- They realize you cannot say thank you too much, because few others in business do.
Who are you?
About the author:
Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs. He has consulted with over 500 professional firm and trained over 200,000 professionals since 1980. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.