The benefits of a good attitude in bad times.
In these turbulent economic times, CPAs and other business people are looking for ways to increase their earnings (or cut losses). John T. Iacopi, CPA, president, Iacopi, Lenz & Co., 3031 West March Lane, Suite 300E, Stockton, California 95219, describes his own firm's secret to success.
Because of the tough economy, CPA firms have extended work hours, downsized, controlled costs and reduced billing charges to attract (or keep) business. In my own firm we have trimmed costs and reduced staff, and our per-person productivity has increased as a result.
But success today requires more than that. We continue to find that what once was an extra effort invested in the practice now is mandatory at both staff and owner levels. Evening and weekend appointments are offered cheerfully to accommodate clients' schedules and needs. Our goal is for all clients to receive high-quality, prompt, courteous, professional services, and we must be at their service at all times. We try to convey gratitude and appreciation to every client who selects our firm.
In following this policy, I believe we are using an asset that has contributed greatly to our ongoing success but that often is overlooked by the majority. A positive attitude--and the tangible changes in client service that it produces--is our most important asset in these changing and demanding times.
EFFECT ON CLIENTS
Clients welcome the opportunity to deal with a positive and appreciative CPA regardless of the news to be conveyed. Lately, I approached a number of engagements and client consultations in a cheery, upbeat mood even though the topics to be covered were depressing. This attitude set the tone of the meetings and the grim news I conveyed was received in a better light, with all of us searching for the bright spots among the adverse conditions. We found them.
When clients see that their CPAs have time for them and are pleased to serve their needs, they, in turn, change their attitudes. They are more willing to pay for services received and, most likely, will request additional ones.
On a number of occasions, clients came to my office for an appointment depressed about their business problems. Following our consultations, I saw them to the door with completely different attitudes. How was this accomplished?
A new perspective. When a client complains about how bad business is, I take the time to note the business's positive aspects. I also list the negatives, but soon the positives outweigh the negatives. When CPAs offer clients hope, good things begin to happen.
Last year, I rendered considerable services to a client who was experiencing financial difficulties. I billed $26,000 to the client and collected $20,000. The remaining $6,000 appeared in jeopardy. I did not push because I knew the client's situation. Finally, the client sent me a letter saying he could not pay the $6,000 balance and that it could take him several months to make a payment on his account.
I responded immediately by thanking him for his good faith and his past patronage. I expressed my confidence in him and my willingness to ride with him for the balance of the year. This was not an easy letter to write, but I approached it in an upbeat manner. As soon as the client had money available (from an unexpected inheritance), he made a payment to our firm. Further, he wants to do more business with us now that he's in better shape financially. He later said my note had given him hope.
BETTER CLIENT SERVICE IDEAS
Being positive leads to creative thinking and new techniques to improve a practice and increase client goodwill.
In late 1992, I had 4"x5" cards printed showing my name, title, phone and fax numbers and address. I left the balance of the cards blank so I could write personal notes. I find that when clients receive handwritten notes from their CPAs, they feel honored to be remembered by a busy professional.
When a client pays our fee promptly, I frequently send a personal note of appreciation. I also send holiday greetings, gift certificates, wine packs and flower arrangements at yearend and on special occasions and, for that matter, generally remember my clients throughout the year. I find, however, the handwritten thank-you notes and other personal acknowledgments sent throughout the year go a long way. I send out at least 30 thank-you cards (for fees, expressions of confidence, referrals) and greeting cards (handwritten) each month to our various clients, who really appreciate them.
I make quite a few after-hours phone calls to clients at their homes. Sometimes they say, "You're the last person I thought would be calling me." I want them to know I am thinking about them, regardless of the time of day, and even call about personal matters.
Confronting the negatives. Like everyone else, I make mistakes. After the 1992 tax filing season was over, I had two clients point out errors I'd made on their returns. (My review staff did not catch them.) Each client received a $25 fee rebate (by check, not in the form of an account credit) with a personal note of apology from me for their inconvenience. Both clients were elated. They remain valued clients.
When clients ask, "Do you have the time to see me?" I tell them I will make the time. Clients must know their CPA will be there when needed. I can't emphasize this point strongly enough; this approach has been the basis of many referrals.
THE TONE AT THE TOP
A firm leader's attitude can be contagious. If it is positive, the entire firm will adopt it. This leads to a healthy business, even in an unhealthy economy. How does one go about keeping a positive attitude? It takes practice.
I hone my positive attitude each night, seven days a week, using a procedure adapted from a success motivation cassette tape. Regardless of the type of day I've had, I take a few moments each evening to record all of the good things I experienced. Sometimes it's not easy to do, but if I make the effort, I wake up in a better frame of mind the next morning and vow to have a better day than the one before.
Keeping this log is a must. I list things such as successful fee collections, new clients obtained, appreciative comments from clients, personal goals achieved (weight, savings, etc.), interest rate drops, stock market increases, compliments from the staff and worthwhile things I've done for other people. The key is to identify only the positives (personal and business) and write them down to help shape a new attitude.
Firm leaders' approach can be spread by offering incentives to those whose attitudes really shine and encouraging the others. Staff should be encouraged to perform extra projects and be compensated accordingly.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The sluggish economy will not last forever and I intend to be in business for a long time to come. If clients show good faith, I work with them to serve their accounting and tax needs. I also take an upbeat approach to their business and economic concerns. Doing so can and does pay off.
Positive attitudes lead to smoother client relations, better staff relations and a happier home life. Higher self-esteem at work can increase billings and collection success. A better attitude is energizing and can lead to increased business and referrals--and yet it costs nothing. I am convinced that for professionals who identify and accentuate the positive, success surely will follow.
* IN TODAY'S ECONOMY, what once was a special favor to clients now is mandatory at both staff and owner levels. One CPA firm finds that keeping a positive attitude improves client service and benefits the firm. * FIRM MEMBERS try to help clients focus on the positives in a troubled business, an approach clients appreciate. Even when fee payments are late, the firm continues to support the client. Firm members keep in touch with all clients through handwritten thank-you notes and greeting cards throughout the year. * WHEN THE FIRM made an error, clients received $25 rebates and personal notes of apology. * THE POSITIVE TONE starts at the top. Staff receive special incentives for good attitudes and are compensated for extra projects.
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|Author:||Iacopi, John T.|
|Publication:||Journal of Accountancy|
|Date:||May 1, 1994|
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