Why Client Issues Are Really Your Issues, Tooby
Whether you're helping a client with PPP loans or filing their taxes last minute, clients themselves can be a real obstacle to a smooth workflow, whether it's intentional or not. Ford Baker of BaCo Tech suggests that by seeing "client issues" as "our issues," you'll improve your client relationships and obtain better results.
We teach webinars very often about improving firm efficiency, workflow and providing better services for our clientele. No matter what the subject matter of the webinar is, we ask one question without fail: What is the biggest obstacle in your firm’s workflow?
There are five options for webinar attendees to choose from:
1. Access to client accounting data
2. Formatting that data
3. Redundant or repetitive work
4. Time compression
5. Client issues
In every webinar we have taught, “client issues” is selected over 25 percent of the time, and, over the course of dozens of webinars and thousands of answers, more than 40 percent of CPAs polled choose this option.
For CPAs, the mistakes our clients make are like war stories, things we can bond over, relate to, and even laugh about. I have had clients text me pictures of their accounting information the day before the deadline. I have had clients try and classify dates with their wives as a business expense. The lists of issues and headaches can go on and on.
Here’s the truth, though. Clients don’t make these mistakes on purpose. They don’t classify things in the wrong place because they are trying to hide issues (hopefully). They might not even text us pictures because they are lazy. They do a lot of these things because they are not accountants. They do not know the right thing to do.
When I hired a Client Experience Director, one of the first things he pointed out was that “Client Issues” should actually be seen as “Our Issues”.
Our clients didn’t just hire us to put last year’s numbers on last year’s forms. They hire us to help them not make mistakes. Many of our clients are not accountants, and many of our clients know that they aren’t. That’s why they hired us.
It was a humbling moment for me. My firm is very technologically forward-looking and has even patented a workflow solution that helps improve our client services, but, in that moment, I was reminded that one of the key components of my job is not just to “fix my clients’ mistakes” but coach them through them.
As a CPA, particularly one whose practice mostly revolves around tax, you spend the majority of your year trying to fill out forms for your clients. The last filing date in Texas is November 15, meaning that I spend 87 percent of my year filing forms for my clients. Those forms are based on past data from my clients, so I am not only spending 87 percent of my year filing forms, but I am spending 87 percent of my year looking at the previous year.
When you put it in that perspective, it makes sense why we as an industry lose sight of our role with our clients. One of the reasons I invested in my own tech solution and have pushed so many tech changes at our firm is so I can work with my clients in real time. In other words, my goal is to spend less time on compliance and add more valued services for our clients.
You might be asking yourself, “How can I make my clients issues my own?” Well, first you must also pay attention to the barriers to discovering those issues. And what is ironic is that the main issue that is a barrier has already been covered: access to their data.
Thomson Reuters said that 40 percent of a CPA’s time is spent gathering a client’s data. You could say that the biggest problem CPAs face is accessing their clients’ accounting information. The quicker and more efficiently a CPA can get that data, the quicker they can answer questions and solve problems, and the quicker they can coach.
When I started trying to solve this problem at my own firm, I also discovered that formatting data was another large hindrance. Each client had a different chart of accounts, different accounting platform, or different version of the same platform.
I want to help my clients solve their issues, but all their data are in different places and in different formats. These are the things I had to fix so I could address the things my client needed to fix. I began moving all my clients onto one centralized server and one version of one accounting platform – with the same chart of accounts.
I took the lead on my clients’ accounting software solution because I knew what it needed to look like, and they valued that service. Clients were happier with the service because I wasn’t just filing tax returns for them now. Instead, I was providing them with a solution.
So, if you truly want to start helping tackle client issues, start there. And luckily, it’s not nearly as daunting now. With the advent of cloud accounting solutions, it’s not a matter of having a program on a server, but simply having a login for the file. Solutions like QBO, Sage BCA and Xero all make it easy to have access to multiple client accounting files. You can also help all your clients set up the standards they need so if you are going to the same places in the same format, it’s more efficient.
Once I had done this, I developed tools in Excel myself to gather and flag relevant information, and I eventually hired a developer to build it out on the web. Now, I can truly access all my client data in one place and receive alerts to their issues. And that may seem like overkill, but BaCo Tech is not the only solution developed by a CPA for their firm: A friend of ours, Jackie Meyer, developed Tax Planner IQ in just this manner. Peerview Data is also a tool developed out of a firm. There are countless examples of this: CPAs who saw an issue experienced by their clients and set out to solve it.
And that’s the real nature of our service: CPAs are not compliance officers or form fillers. We are Service Providers, and that service is to help our clients solve their tax and accounting problems.
If you ask me, a key to helping your clients solve their own issues is by actively investing in better and better technology. My Tax & Client Services Director always says that he “wants to be efficient with things in order to be effective with people.” Technology is essential in this goal.
What’s incredible for us is that as we have addressed the barriers to accessing our clients’ issues and invested in more tech solutions, the nature of our relationships with our clients has changed fundamentally. No longer are we the people filling out forms, and we are even more than solution providers for our clients. We are problem solvers. We can engage in conversations about their businesses real time.
Because of the technologies we invested in, we were able to help any clients who needed PPP loan help for free because we had the information needed to secure the loan. We helped 13 entities have their loan applications filed within the first 4 hours of the application being opened by the federal government.
All of this starts with a perspective shift: Your “client issues” are your issues, the very thing you have been hired by that client to address. When you encounter recurring errors or see a consistent pattern of mistakes in their data, use that as an opportunity to consult, coach, and help them run a better business every day.
Ford Baker is a 1986 graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in accounting before beginning his career in Public Accounting. He earned his CPA and has over 30 years of experience, first in audit, and then changing to tax before he founded The BaCo Group, PLLC, over 20 years ago. After a realization that his personal life was out of...