Improving Customer Care
Does your practice benefit from high levels of customer satisfaction? Liz Kirkham explains what steps you can take to achieve such a result.
Competition in the accountancy profession has probably never been as fierce as it is today. It is essential therefore for the growth and continuity of a practice that clients are satisfied with the service provided.
A common reason from disgruntled clients for changing accountants is that the fees are too high. However, in most cases it is not so much that fees are too high as that there is an expectation gap clients often feel that they are not getting value for money.
ACCAs Quality Assurance Programme (Quality Checked Seal) promotes a high
standard of customer care by recommending quality control procedures based on
that which is generally considered best practice by the accountancy profession.
These controls start with new client procedures, ensuring that the scope of
work carried out for a client and the clients responsibilities are clearly
explained to the client at the start of the appointment and put in a letter
of engagement to help avoid any misunderstanding.
Internal Control Procedures
A firms internal control procedures also have an important part to play in customer care. Some of these are explained below. However, a firms method of maintaining adequate controls in each area does often depend on the size and structure of the firm.
Planning the timing of assignments will help avoid working flat out to meet various tax and filing deadlines. This gives a firm time to offer a more comprehensive and proactive service to its clients rather than just the basic compliance work. The additional services will help to ensure the client values the overall service offered.
Another common complaint from clients concerns the time their accountants have their books and records before and while preparing their accounts and tax returns. By putting in place a tracking system to monitor the date books are received, stages of work in progress and the completion of each assignment, the firm will have the ability to ensure that all work is completed in a timely manner.
Even something as basic as good filing can aid customer care. Clients will not be impressed if they have a query that cannot be answered because the file cannot be found or the firm seems unaware of recent correspondence or conversations. A policy of recording file notes of relevant matters discussed with clients will help to ensure that vital information is not overlooked when preparing work for, or advising, clients. In addition, a partner review of all outgoing correspondence will help to ensure appropriate advice is given. Clients may not remember all the good advice given by a firm but will certainly remember any mistakes made.
Quality of Employee
Employing the right staff can mean the difference between enhancing and damaging a firms reputation. It is therefore important to ensure that staff are given adequate training and supervision to ensure a high standard of work is maintained. In practice staff are often expected to learn from work experience, guidance and supervision given within a firm.
Although this provides a very important part of staff training, external courses should also be considered. If staff attend suitable courses they will be more able to contribute to customer care. They may even alert the partner to issues where clients may be falling foul of current legislation, thus giving the partner a good opportunity to provide proactive advice.
Two areas where risk is often underestimated are work carried out for clients in respect of VAT compliance and the preparation of payrolls. Both of these areas are high risk in that errors can cost your client money in interest or penalties. Yet the work is often carried out by the most junior members of staff with minimal supervision. Even the most experienced staff need to refresh their knowledge and keep up to date with any changes in VAT, PAYE and NI legislation and employment law.
These are just a few examples of quality controls a firm can put in place to help it maintain a consistently good standard of service to all its clients.
Liz Kirkham Compliance Officer, ACCA