The Accounting Client Experience, Part 2: Your Office Environment
In a typical year, I may walk into more than 100 accounting offices. After five years of doing this, I can share some great and not so great examples of an accounting office environment.
First, how is the front room presentation in your office? After the exterior of the building this is the first impression a client or prospective client will experience. A well styled and comfortable reception area plays a vital role in the experience a client has when they visit your office. In fact, it can even overcome a rundown exterior. I had a client that had converted an old house into a quaint little office. The outside was not too impressive, but when you walked in the front door you were literally blown away by how nice the interior was. Every appointment I sent to that office had exactly the same impression. It was almost like we were in on a secret or had found a diamond in the rough and my client confirmed that her clients always commented on how much they enjoyed visiting the office.
On the other extreme was an office I visited that was an office share for three different CPA practices. The reception area was a central room and the CPAs, each a solo practitioner, occupied three of the four private offices around this reception hub. The fourth private office was shared for storage. However, the storage office was not large enough to hold everything, so most of their file cabinets were placed in the middle of the reception area. Around these file cabinets they had a dozen mismatched chairs for clients to sit in while waiting. There were two carved throne chairs next to a few folding chairs next to a desk chair next to a kitchen chair. When I entered the reception room, I stepped outside to be sure I had entered the correct suite and then re-entered and tried to figure out where the owner I was meeting was located. He actually stood up in his office on the opposite side of the filing cabinets, got up on his tip toes and waved me over. It was a cluttered and uncomfortable introduction to his practice.
You do not need to be in Class A space or even Class B, but you do need to do the best you can with what you have. The best offices I have visited were impressive in their presentation and gave me the immediate impression of organization and competence, two things all accounting offices should aspire to imprint on their clients. So, review all areas a client may visit in your office, from the reception room and private offices to bathrooms, and be sure they are tidy, organized and comfortable.
The reception area may not require much time or money. A few pieces of comfortable furniture (that match!) and a table with some reading material (be sure to remove personal addresses). It may need a fresh coat of paint. Maybe round it out with a few plants and some nice warm pictures on the wall. Do not let this be a processing or storage area with files and documents strewn about. Keep it clean, organized and welcoming. Same goes for your conference room if you meet with clients in one.
In your private offices, it is understandable to have some files on your desk and about. But avoid big stacks of files as it may make the client feel they are just one of many or, even worse, you are so busy that they should not refer anyone to you. Also, do not put any paperwork on the floor, it does not belong there and will give a client nothing other than a negative impression. Ideally, you want to appear hard working, but very organized.
In general you should aim for a nice, comfortable, warm environment that will put clients and prospective clients at ease. The side benefit is this will also result in an environment that the staff is more comfortable working within and that they take more pride in. I would enjoy hearing about other treatments of your office environment you have found critical to the client experience.