The necessary act of recovery

By Angie Grissom, vice president and director of consulting, The Rainmaker Consulting Group

Earlier this year, Nashville, TN was hit with what some refer to as a 100 year flood and others refer to as a 500 year flood.  Downtown Nashville flood pictures showed local businesses inundated with water, with many businesses losing power and having to close their doors.  The Cumberland River flooded after the storms dumped more than 13 inches of rain in Nashville over a two day weekend. (This nearly doubled the previous record of 6.68 inches of rain that fell in the wake of Hurricane Fredrick in 1979.)  Much damage was done all over Nashville and surrounding areas as well as other surrounding states. Neighborhoods on all sides of the city were affected.  This was unavoidable, unprecedented devastation to most

I live in Nashville, and as I drove through downtown and throughout so many of the neighborhoods that were affected, I saw many home owners, business owners, and volunteers working diligently to remove soaked possessions and debris from homes and businesses. Nashville went into full recovery mode.  In our community, we were surrounded by recovery efforts in every direction. The act of recovery is so critical whether it is caused by a natural disaster or even a small professional one. In Nashville's case, the city reacted to a natural disaster. But, how does recovery relate to your firm? The bottom line is that things happen that are unexpected and sometimes out of our control. They happen in our communities and they happen in our firms. The real indicator of success is how you recover from them.

Five Star Client Service is a client service methodology that we at the Rainmaker Consulting Group have been teaching over the years to many CPA firms.  Recovery is the final component in the Five Star process, following: connecting, taking the order, delivering the order, ascertaining satisfaction, and offering dessert.  Recovery involves protecting the relationship with your clients after something happens that can be potentially damaging. Whether it is a technical error or an altogether unavoidable situation, recovery is necessary to provide a high level of client service and to protect your relationships with your clients, thus protecting your business.

No one wants to find himself in a situation where recovery is needed.  This doesn't change the reality that mistakes do happen and recovery is essential.  Errors happen. People make mistakes.  Some mistakes in your firm are unavoidable, but all can be damaging to the relationships inside and outside your firm.  I am always surprised at the small number of firms that actually have a formal Recovery System in place. A recovery process is simply a written action plan that lays out the steps for recovery with a client in your firm. Here is an example of a process for your firm when recovery is needed:

  1. Determine what superiors should be notified. It is always best to involve a superior so that the situation is handled in the best way.  For example, the issue may warrant the involvement of the managing partner, partners, or others.
  2. Make note of the issue for documentation in client files so that you do not forget how it was handled and resolved.
  3. Set a time expectation for addressing the issue with the individual (within 24 hours).
  4. Determine different options for handling the recovery (this could include re-work, fee reduction, token of appreciation, hand-written note, and other steps).
  5. Make sure that the issue is resolved and the client is satisfied with the resolution.

Client retention is a huge concern for firms right now, and it should be.   Creating a road map for your team members on how to handle a recovery situation is necessary.  Otherwise, you may find that team members either ignore or bury problems out of fear of repercussions from management.  Instead of this, wouldn't it be better to encourage your team and partners to bring these issues up so you can work together to recover with the client? This will allow the relationships with clients to be strengthened instead of weakened.

Many times the need for recovery is unavoidable, so make certain that your practice has a culture of recovering well when needed.  Just as many businesses and homes affected by the Nashville flood will not only recover but will emerge with newfound strength and vigor, many times when you are able to exceed your clients' expectations in recovery, you end up with a stronger relationship with your client than you even started with.

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