Do you offer a service guarantee? I bet you do.

Whenever I ask this question during my seminars for accountants, very rarely does anyone answer ‘yes’.  I then ask a follow up question.

“If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?”

Again we tend to have unanimity. No one would charge extra to resolve a mistake of their own making.  To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients. I included a related point (about fixed fee guarantees) at the top of the list of examples I gave in a previous post on this blog: Is the way you describe yourself helping you to generate enough business?

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on accountancy firm websites. I came across one last week and established that it wasn’t unique to the firm in question; Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective is the message below. It’s listed on some accountancy firms’ websites as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’

Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…

Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.

Here it is…

If at any time you are not completely happy with our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment.

That means…

  • No small print;
  • No quibbles;
  • No questions asked;
  • No exceptions;
  • No strings

I think it’s very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

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What is it that can go wrong?

Over the years I have collected dozens and dozens of stories of what it is that has led to problems for accountants. Such examples help inform my talks about how to avoid negligence claims. It’s also worth recognising how easy it is for things to go wrong; after all they do say that forewarned is forearmed.

So here is a selection of real life situations that have led to negligence claims against accountants. Don’t get caught out yourself:

  • Unexpected obligations to overseas tax authorities
  • Difficulties with liquidators due to auditors being officers of the company
  • Failing to provide all relevant information to successors
  • Failure to evidence independent advice as a trustee
  • Difficult clients not providing all relevant information
  • Nightmare clients who are not clear as to what they want
  • Continuing responsibilities after ceasing to act for a client
  • ‘bad’ partners in the firm
  • Counter claims when pursuing outstanding fees
  • Going beyond agreed scope of work and level of own competence
  • Failure to spot employee fraud
  • Clients who lose confidence due to poor communication
  • Lack of clarity re scope of work and responsibilities
  • Adverse media reports after disgruntled client leaves
  • Casual relationships
  • Third party (or interested party) putting pressure on client to complain
  • Failing to spot technical issues
  • Valuation related work when subsequent sale suggests a very different figure
  • Clients looking for someone to sue

I have written a 10,000 word ebook drawn from my talk on How to avoid professional negligence claims, containing tips and risk management advice for accountants in practice. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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A twitter case study and intro for professional advisers

Twitter seems a bizarre concept. In theory you post brief messages (up to 140 characters at a time) about what you’re doing and these are seen by your ‘followers’. Equally you can read what other people who you’re following say they’re doing.

In practice ‘tweets’ are far more varied than some of the media would have you believe.

Through twitter I have secured attendees at my seminars, traffic to my websites and to my blogs. I have also benefitted from having my messages ReTweeted to wider audiences than the people who ‘follow’ me. And following links from other people’s tweets has led to useful material for my blogs. I’ve also started to build online relationships and have experienced strangers acting as my advocate.

Each time I add new posts to my Ambitious Accountants blog, my TaxBuzz blog or my Accountant jokes blogs an automatic Tweet goes out with a link back to the new blog post. And it’s not only my ‘followers’ who get to see them. Many people search twitter for real time commentary and then tell others.

So, for me twitter is shaping up as a fun business tool. But, do I think many UK accountants will become active on twitter? No. It’s too time consuming as compared with other ways in which they can achieve their business objectives. In this connection I refer back to a blog post I wrote last December in which I explained why ‘Twitter is not for accountants’. My views are unchanged despite knowing a handful of accountants who are now active on twitter – some are even enthusiastic about it. Maybe more will try it out, but I doubt many will stay the course (for business).

Twitter is the latest phenomenon in the area of ‘online business networking’. Business or social? It depends how you choose to use twitter, what you tweet about and who you follow. If you follow all the internet marketing enthusiasts, the celebrity twitterers and the novices who don’t really ‘get it’ you’ll certainly consider twitter a waste of time.

You may know some of your ‘followers’ personally. Others will find you through friends, through real time searches re accountancy and tax subjects or subjects o mutual interest. There are loads of would be twitter spammers – but if you don’t follow them they can’t spam you! And you choose who you follow. If you don’t like the way that someone tweets, ‘unfollow’ them.

I doubt many of my followers read all of my tweets. I certainly don’t have time to read all those of all the people I follow. Many of them in fact only tweet occasionally. As well as friends and business associates I follow other commentators, some journalists, some firms, some publications and some organisations. Many are still experimenting with their twitter strategy – as am I.

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If you decide to join in, by all means follow me at www.twitter.com/BookMarkLee. I’ve explained my approach in more details on the twitter page of this blog.

Through the Tax Advice Network I also write the The Tax Buzz blog and twitter feed which you can follow at www.twitter.com/TheTaxBuzz

And if you have a contrary view, whether you are an accountant or not, please add your comments to this post.

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Disengagement letters

Let’s face it, few accountants have detailed procedures in place to ensure they do all they need to do when they lose a client. The simple reason for this is that it doesn’t happen often enough to warrant a detailed procedure and even when it does occur there’s rarely a problem.

The larger firms lose more clients across the board and tend to have procedures in place to reduce the prospect of problems arising down the line. One of these procedures is a proforma disengagement letter.

This is a concept that I frequently advocate during my talks on ‘How to avoid professional negligence claims and worse’. Simply stated the use of such letters can help minimise the prospect of continuing liability to ex-clients and also to those who do not reply to requests eg: for information required to complete tax returns or accounts.

What should be addressed in a disengagement letter? I suggest the following:

  • A summary of services provided up to the date of ceasing to act;
  • A note of any further action to be taken by the adviser;
  • A note of any outstanding matters that either the ex-client or the new advisers will need to address;
  • Details of any impending deadlines and the action required;
  • The adviser’s willingness or otherwise to assist the new advisers resolve outstanding issues with HMRC or others; and to provide copy papers to the new advisers or to allow them access to files;
  • If relevant, details of any outstanding fees; and finally
  • A note indicating that the adviser has told HMRC that he is no longer acting for the client and that until further notice all correspondence should be sent only to the taxpayer.

Anything else? Please share your veiws as comments on this blog post.

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Do you treat clients like lab rats?

Probably the most sensible thing any adviser can do is to recognize their limitations.

Most accountants are like GPs. Great at dealing with day to day issues. Every now and then though when you visit the doctor they recommend you see a specialist. Indeed you’d be very worried if the GP suggested you hop up on the bed so that he can remove your kidney, operate on your back, undertake a brain scan or whatever.

In the same way there is no shame in admitting to clients that occasionally you have to involve other specialists to ensure that the client gets best advice. This will invariably enhance your relationship with clients than either of the alternatives:

  • Avoiding the issue – to avoid revealing your lack of knowledge/experience;
  • Guessing and using the client as a lab rat (test subject) and risking the consequences of giving incomplete or incorrect advice

When you need a second opinion or want to refer work to a specialist, obviously I would like you to choose one of the vetted independent specialist tax adviser members of the Tax Advice Network.  The options however include:

  • Tax expert colleagues in the office
  • Colleagues in other offices
  • Tax expert friends at local events
  • Professional fees insurer
  • Tax Faculty referral scheme
  • Business Mentor/coach
  • Larger accountancy firms
  • Larger tax consultancy
  • Independent external tax support – such as Tax Advice Network

It’s also worth noting that the Guide to Professional Conduct, applies to all members of the largest professional tax and accountancy bodies. It states that:

“A member must not undertake professional work which he is not competent to perform unless he obtains help from an appropriate specialist.”

I have also written a 10,000 word ebook drawn from my talk on How to avoid professional negligence claims, containing tips and risk management advice for accountants in practice. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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