Social media makes it easier for clients to publicise bad service

At 10.30 on the evening of 20 January 2010 Deb Maddock from Devon posted the following message on twitter:

“Yet again Stupid Accountant David Rice of Plymouth didn’t turn up to our appointment and didn’t let us know. Wasted trip! USELESS #fail”

A quick online search the following morning revealed two accountants with that name in that area (or maybe it’s the same guy and he’s moved).

The point though is that until recently, when a client was unhappy with their professional advisers all they had was word of mouth.  Conventional wisdom suggests that unhappy people tell ten people for every one person they tell when they are happy with the service they receive.

Social media though makes it much easier for clients to blog, post comments on forums and to tweet about their experiences. And twitter especially provides a real time facility for people to unload and SHARE their frustrations – as well as their delights.

Deb’s post may well have been seen by only a fraction of her 600 twitter followers. Or maybe they’ve all seen it. Maybe some have told their friends. Maybe it’s been circulated more widely.  Who knows.  Playing devil’s advocate, perhaps there’s a good reason for Mr Rice’s non-appearance.

Is there a lesson here for ambitious professionals – beyond the obvious one re keeping appointments?

I have written about twitter here before. Even if you choose NOT to tweet yourself, perhaps the time is coming when you need to have a twitter account to monitor what others are saying about you on twitter? It needn’t be time consuming and it would enable you to respond promptly and to nip problems in the bud. The bigger brands are slowing catching on to this idea too. The way and speed in which they are SEEN to resolve issues can have a positive impact. Indeed such actions can more than compensate for the earlier critical comments.  It’s also instructive to be aware of what people are saying about you.  I’m not aware of any of the big professional firms who do this (yet).

Another way to monitor what’s being said about you online is to use a free service like Google Alerts. It’s less easy if you have a common name like David Rice (or Mark Lee!) but it can be done.

Any other related tips?

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How uptodate are your newsletters?

I was in an accountant’s office recently and was impressed by the range of promotional leaflets and booklets for all of the firm’s different service lines.

The only one I picked up though was their 10 page colour ‘magazine’. It was on the table in reception and looked as if it would be more interesting than the promotional leaflets.  I appreciate that I look at such documents in a different way to the target reader (clients, prospects and referrers) so perhaps my view is not relevant.

The magazine was well laid out and contained some interesting commentary and articles. Full marks? Er, no.

Although the first few pages were still current the tax news was decidedly out of date. And out of the 12 tax and VAT items I counted 5 that had been either been superseded by events or by more recent announcements. And there were 3 others that mentioned relevant dates in July, August or September 2009.

I checked the front cover – This was the summer 2009 issue of the magazine. The winter issue won’t be published until February.

On balance I think that, in this case, the typical reader would not be put off. But the publication schedule strikes me as odd – and indeed risky, especially as regards tax news and advice. Should the firm have removed the magazine from display at Christmas?

If you’re going to publish a regular mag of some sort you either need to ensure it excludes time sensitive material (and for this purpose tax content is invariably time sensitive). Or publish at least 4 times a year – no more than 3m apart. OR, and I think this is probably the most cost effective solution for smaller firms – buy in the magazine, newsletter or content from a third party copywriter or publisher. Ensure it contains your branding and some news on your practice and spend your time on other activities rather than collating, editing and/or writing a newsletter/mag.

What do you think?

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Trends that will matter in 2010 – for accountants

I’m not one for making predictions generally. However, for reasons I’ll explain later I’ve set out below a few ‘new’ trends that may have an impact on accountants this year. What do you think?

1 – More clients will be texting communications to their accountants. NB: how do you print off any such instructions if you want to retain an audit trail of evidence? (instant messaging using skype will also become more prevalent but you can print these off, as you can emails;

2 – Increased use of VoIP (principally Skype) in place of telephone;

3 – As many have predicted for years there will be a continuing and growing demand for by clients for more than ‘just’ accounts and tax return services from their accountants each year. Again I’ve been blogging about this for some time too.

4 – More and more accountants will start to experiment with twitter and other online ‘social networking’. Most will make the mistake of using it as a broadcast mechanism and will then stop using it when they find that their approach fails to win them new clients. If you’re tempted or simply curious, I’ve written a series of hints and tips for accountants who want to find out more or to experiment with twitter.

I promised to explain what prompted this blog post.  Quite simply I  found I’d posted, two years ago, a piece under the title: Trends that will matter in 2008 – for accountants. The first 3 trends above are exactly what I prematurely suggested in January 2008. The only new one is the reference to twitter.  On past performance maybe that’s at least 2 years premature too!

What do you think 2010 will bring for accountants?

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How different do you need to be?

The Telegraph Business club has produced a very professional film about a London based firm of accountants: Lubbock Fine.

As I watched this I initially felt sorry for the firm. Everyone on film was very positive but we could have changed the name of the firm to one of dozens of others and almost every single statement and sentiment being expressed would still have held true. Especially the so-called ‘ground breaking’ reorganisation  that resulted in a partner-led one to one service and joined up client services some years ago.

About 3 minutes into the film we learned about some of the firm’s genuinely unique (or at least less common) features – including their expansion into the old eastern block and the fact that over 50% of their clients are based overseas. Also their long term corporate sponsorship and their involvement with other worthy activities.

I was especially taken by Managing Partner Geoff Goodyear’s closing statements (6 minutes in). He talked about the obligations he sees for management to, effectively anticipate changes within the market and the need to “develop some skill sets that may not be available or required at the moment but you anticipate that they will be required in the future”.  I would like to think though that this too is the same as all other decent managing partners.

The example inspired by the film prompts me to highlight a number of points that I have mentioned previously on this blog:

  1. Good professionals need to develop a variety of skills. Effective CPD is about more than simply keeping uptodate technically (see yesterday’s post: What does CPD really mean?)
  2. Sometimes you don’t need to be different,  you just need to communicate what you do more effectively than your competition (and Lubbock Fine’s film is a great example of a firm doing just that);
  3. Some of the things we think make us different are fallacies. Many firms of a similar size and age find it hard to identify REAL points of difference. In practice though this is  probably only an issue in competitive tender situations when comparable firms find it hard to distinguish themselves;
  4. Lubbock Fine’s website highlights their specialisms in 6 key client areas.  Such an approach is bound to be more effective than trying to be all things to all types of clients.

I titled this piece – “How different do you need to be?”  What’s your view?  How different do you need to be?

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What does CPD really mean?

Having just shared my views re CPD over on AccountingWeb I offer below an adapted summary and a few additional ideas and tips.

CPD of course stands for Continuing PROFESSIONAL Development.

To some (older?) people this is synonymous with attending courses. It’s what we always did. Historically I recall my obligation to the ICAEW was to evidence 150 points of CPD each year. Of these a large proportion had to be  ‘structured CPD’ such as attending courses. These qualified for 3 points per hour. Reading technical updates only counted for 1 point per hour. As far back as I can recall I hit my 150 points target within the first few months of each year. I think that was more common with tax advisers than audit partners for some reason.

The ICAEW CPD rules changed a while ago to a much more sensible system in my view. Now there is a simpler obligation on each member to  judge what CPD is most appropriate for you, and how you intend to acquire that knowledge. (See: ICAEW What is CPD?).

ICAEW also point out that effective CPD can include:

  • Technical reading
  • Learning at work
  • Meetings with experts
  • Conferences
  • Courses and seminars
  • Online learning
  • Workshops with your peers
  • Reading magazines, newspapers and journals
  • Registering for updates and email alerts

And PLEASE let’s remember that our Continuing Professional DEVELOPMENT means far more than simply being uptodate technically. What about personal skills, business skills, management skills – and so on?  These are equally important aren’t they?

Cost effectiveness is one of the keys, especially as we move into 2010. The big course providers try to keep the cost of places low by encouraging the use of annual tickets and large numbers in one central location.  One to one training can be far more productive and personal (which is what really counts) but is likely to be more costly although it will take less time. If you’re able to undertake good billable work for much of the time it can be a false economy to lose that billable time to take time out to attend a cheap big course miles from the office.

Everyone is different.

Some will benefit most by attending big generic courses and listening to a speaker whilst watching their powerpoint slides and then reading the notes afterwards. It is an approach that many of us are very comfortable with, it gives us a break from the office, perhaps we also get to chat with other delegates and to interact with the speaker.

It’s a little ironic for me as an organiser of training sessions for professionals and as a speaker at such events to admit this but there are many alternatives available now – including the online provision of almost identical course content to that which you might otherwise travel miles to hear live. An increasing number of providers are offering you the choice.  If this is of interest do please add a comment below this blog or send me a note and, if there is sufficient interest, I’ll look into it further as regards my own seminar materials.

Some people may absorb more information simply through reading relevant content online or in magazines, books or newsletters.  For example I’m sure that reading the Tax Advice Network’s weekly practical newsletters counts as CPD – although they don’t take very long to read given their practical focus for accountants in general practice.  Reading this blog and the posts on the TaxBuzz blog too should count as CPD – although this is less likely as regards my blog containing accountant jokes and fun! 😉

What really matters is whether your PROFESSIONAL skills and knowledge are improved/developed in some way by the activities you undertake.

It’s also worth stating that attending a course doesn’t always count (if you’re honest). For example, if you leave the course thinking it was a waste of time and you’ve learned nothing new; in what way has your attendance contributed to your Continuing Professional DEVELOPMENT?

Please share your views as comments below if you care.

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