The Real Reasons Clients Change CPA Firms

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by Jean Caragher and Rick Telberg
SevenKeys CPA

In our relentless pursuit of mutually satisfying CPA-Client relationships, the Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management has asked over 3,000 clients and practitioners what clients really want.
The responses indicate a general, if not unanimous, consensus: Clients want service. Lots of it. Now.
And it better be good. And heartfelt. And cheap. 

“They want someone who will take a personal interest in learning their business and help guide/coach them through the turbulent times,” says one head of a small CPA firm in Houston. “Be proactive and help them save money on taxes and other costs of operation.”

That CPA crammed a lot of common feelings into that response. We’re finding clients and CPAs alike calling for much the same: CPAs who care, who do more than audit or prep taxes, who are proactively involved in keeping clients updated and duly informed, all at a price that clients tended to call “reasonable” and CPAs tended to call “cheap.”
But something else came up a lot, something we’d think was both reasonable and cheap, not to mention easy, but apparently it’s been widely lacking: communication.
“They want someone who will take their phone call, who will listen to them on the phone and will make time for them,” said the president of small financial consulting firm in Redding, Conn. “They want to be understood.”
Indeed, “cheap” came up quite a bit. But the all-too-human urge that creates a demand for cheap beer, cheap cars, and cheap clothes doesn’t necessarily extend to audits and accounting services.
The owner of a small firm in Phoenix, Ariz., has apparently been dealing with clients who are even more demanding. They want “cheap service of the highest quality available,” he says.
Is that asking too much? Well, maybe…
“Price, Service, Quality — pick two!” said one CEO of a smallish client company.
But a partner at a two-partner accounting firm in Boca Raton, Fla., sees clients having more reasonable requests.
“Clients want accountants who are knowledgeable and respond to their questions in a timely fashion,” he says, “while not being charged for every little item.”
On the client side, a senior staffer of a governmental agency in Indianapolis, Ind., sees a need for C.Y.A. CPA services. He says clients want “not to have to worry about service being provided. They want to know that it is done and there is nothing that will come back to haunt them.”
The idea of “avoiding trouble” comes up in quite a few responses, but overall, clients are looking for real help in running their businesses.
One client-side CFO seems to say it all: “Clients want guidance. They don’t need their CPA to be a guru in their business, but they expect their CPA to take an active interest in their business. Being willing to listen and learn the business is important. Clients want sound advice when it’s given, and they want to know what the numbers mean. They want accuracy and the confidence in knowing what they hire their CPA for will be done right.”
That says a lot, maybe even most of what any decent practitioner needs to know. It could also be a list of what a client might expect from an accountant.
We notice that price isn’t mentioned much by clients. Apparently some things are priceless. Solid service may be one of them.
Editor’s Note: This topic and other essential topics like are part of The 2011 SevenKeys CPA two-hour online strategic planning workshop Thursday, May 19. Jean and Rick will be using the exclusive, data-driven SevenKeys CPA tools to help a select number of attendees run a firmwide self-assessment and develop high-leverage strategies for success. As a special offer for AccountingWeb readers, you are eligible for $10 off. Click here to register for the strategic planning workshop and use the promo code aweb0519.
For more about the Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management, download the executive summary (PDF, 11 pages) at
Copyright Seven Keys CPA 2011. All rights reserved.


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