How to Retain Those Hard-Earned Client Insightsby
This is a case study of a firm that put their systems of retaining and locating crucial client information during the busiest time of the year to the test. An unforseen incident forced them to have to track work for nearly half of its clients, did they have what it takes to not only complete the work, but not upset or even lose hard-earned clients.
What do you do if anyone at your firm with essential client information is not available? Where does that data live and how do you get it? The case study of Shreeve Landry CPAs, a 12-person firm from Woods Cross, Utah shows how one firm put its processes of knowing the status of work, and locating key client information to the ultimate test...right at the tax deadline.
Background: Travis Shreeve and Travis Landry met during while earning their Masters Degrees on their way to becoming CPAs. Shreeve had a strong auditing background, while Landry focused more on taxes. They began working together in 2012 as controllers and CFOs for other businesses. The tax work they did was “side work” but eventually grew a client base to a respectable level to do tax and accounting work full time.
By 2018, Shreeve Landry CPAs grew to 400 clients and, through a few client acquisitions from retiring CPAs, the firm currently has approximately 1,800 clients serviced by 12 full-time staff, 10 of which are accountants.
“We knew from early on that if we were going to do all that we do the right way, we needed systems in place to help us to that,” said Landry. “We needed to a way to keep track of all client information, a good CRM system, task management and a way to not to drop the ball on any client work.” Moreover, because of how the firm started, Landry felt they needed cloud-based systems and Canopy was a key component.
The Problem: It wasn’t until this most recent tax season that the issue of retaining hard-earned client insights came to full light. On the last full day of the season (May 17th), Landry’s partner and firm co-founder Travis Shreeve was taken to the hospital due to difficulties with COVID-19. He was on a ventilator for three weeks and, in his position at the firm, half of the business’ work load flowed through him.
The main problem hit Landry of how do he and the staff gather all of the client information that he knows and check in with where work is at from where he left off? According to Landry, “We knew we needed good systems in place from the beginning, but this really brought it all home.”
The Process: The challenge was first and foremost finding where Shreeve left off. Since approximately half of the firm's client workload flowed through Shreeve. Specificically, Landry and staff had to find out if work was waiting on Shreeve or if he was waiting on work from staff or clients to come through. Next, was how to re-assign work other CPAs to keep work moving and do so in a way that the clients were not negatively affected and communicated with properly.
Once that was assessed, they were able to go into Canopy and look at all of the "open tasks" for their tax prep work -- both business and personal -- and exported that task list to an Excel file. They looked at how many were waiting on reviews, how many returns in total were outstanding, and what other work did he have in process. Shreeve was also a CFO of a nonprofit organization and they needed to see who needed checks signed or any other pressing work. That information, too, was in their system and they were able to re-assign it to staff.
In addition to "the work," Landry noted it was essential to keep track of client communications. When they discussed specific things, when that happened, what they spoke about, etc. All of the notes and details were in Canopy. "Having these tools, it really makes it easier on a reviewer and you can use those notes from year to year," said Landry. "Maybe Shreeve knows those details but if someone new comes in [or if he or someone like him is not around], where does that information live? Those details were really handy to have."
Issues/Challenges: According to Landy, one of the main issues "came down to the diligence of the user. Every tool you can get can only automate so much, so we found we needed to have good internal policies and whether or not you want to make it required." He also stressed that firms need to think of their team members that may need that essential client information. That said, Landry noted when you have the right systems in place and make it a part of your everyday work, you can see client details that most people would not simply remember on their own. "You still have to be persistant and diligent to use the systems you have and keep those notes. Not everyone understands what’s important to remember."
Results: It may be difficult to quantify the full effect of how the firm dealt with Shreeve's absensce (p.s. he has recovered and is doing better, despite some difficult days), as far as Landry felt clients were communicated with properly and seemed satisfied, "but for many, we won't know until next tax season if they come back." What was important to him and his firm?
"I had a lot of sense of security in knowing which clients my partner was working on. I could quickly pull that up in a matter of minutes, export that information, get a snapshot of where we were and what was still outstanding and split up and assign that work," said Landry. "I also knew there were enough details about those clients in my system to know they could carry the baton for a while."
Landry also noted that this experience helped push the culture along of diligently taking notes about clients. "There's a lot of information in emails, for sure, but there's a lot of things you learn by talking to a client and taking that information down [and having it available] is important."
On the downside, Landry said that their "true turnaround time" of two weeks got pushed back about 3-4 weeks and while that doesn’t always sit well with clients, they were understanding of this particular situation. He did stress, again, "we won't really know the impact until next tax season, but I'd like to think we supported them and they are coming back."
Next Steps/Lessons Learned: First and foremost, they learned that for each client the firm needs a backup. "Some CPAs that are more seasoned may have figured this out, but having the partners be the bottleknecks in the system can be a challenge," said Landry. "It's important for us that from the introduction [to a new client] that a client has multiple points of contact within the firm."
Want to learn more about keeping work moving and essential client information at the ready, even if staff are not available or even leave for good? Join us TODAY for this Free CPE webinar.