Lessons for accountants from….. London cabbies

Last week many of London’s black cab drivers staged a protest against the way that the authorities had treated a new competitor in the marketplace. This reminded me of the strident views that some qualified accountants express as regards the competition they face from unqualified people.

Some of the reports of the cabbies’  protest suggest that their beef was with the new competitor – ‘Uber”, an online app.  Essentially it enables prospective passengers to call for a mini cab which picks them up and then charges them a fare based on the distance they travel.

I understood that the complaint was that the authorities are not upholding the law. As a result, unlicenced cars with the ‘uber’ app are able to operate in much the same way as black cabs but without any of the safeguards or restraints that are imposed on black cab drivers. The app enables minicabs to operate in much the same way as black cabs but without the training, licence or regulation that makes black cabs generally safe, reliable and professional.

The authorities are refusing to get involved presumably as they do not agree that the rules are being broken. What lessons can accountants draw from this stalemate?

  1. There is no point complaining that unqualified competitors are stealing clients. You need to ensure you offer a compelling case for people to engage YOUR services. How do you STAND OUT from the competition?
  2. The marketplace is evolving and cloud computing makes it easier for clients to access their data online. Many will prefer the traditional service, just as many people will prefer to continue using black cabs. If however too many passengers move to uber the black cabs will have to evolve. If you find that many of your clients exercise their right to choose convenience and web, tablet or smartphone focused services you will need to adapt too.
  3. If you build strong relationships with your existing clients they may be more inclined to resist  the temptation of going with a new, easier to use alternative service provider. If you’re lucky.
  4. You need to decide whether to become an early adopter and adapt early to new services and alternative business models.
  5. Good PR can really help you to STANDOUT even if you are not that different to other accountants. The uber app does little more than does Hailo, the black cab app. Hailo enables you to find local black cabs who will then come and pick you up. Uber does the same thing with unlicenced drivers. But Hailo hasn’t had the benefit of the PR that has been generated by the fuss about uber.

What other lessons can accountants learn from London cabbies?

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Ten ways to make clients listen to your advice

It can be frustrating when you give clients advice which they then either ignore or misunderstand.  You want to get them to trust your advice and you want to be able to influence them to follow your advice.

Here are ten ways to increase the likelihood that clients will listen to you:

  1. Ask more and better questions before you give your advice. If you don’t do this your advice will seem generic and not worth following. When I was young I had a tendency to recognise a pattern of facts and to leap to premature conclusions. It didn’t engender confidence if I shared my conclusions too soon, Practice asking good open questions and, where appropriate, good closed questions too. This way, you can ensure that your advice, when you give it, takes account of all key information.
  2. Evidence your experience by supporting your advice with reference to similar previous situations, relevant case law, legislation or rules.
  3. Ensure the way you phrase your advice is focused on your client. It should never be about you showing off how much you know. 
  4. The more your client feels that you have been listening to them the more inclined they will be to follow your advice. Nodding your head as you listen is one way to do this. Making notes of (at least) key words they use is another.
  5. Hear your client out and get all of the facts on the table before you draw conclusions and give your advice – based on your past experience.
  6. Try to paraphrase and reflect back to your client the information they have provided to you and on which you are basing your advice. You can do this face to face or in writing.
  7. Ensure you come across as confident in your advice. Avoid going too far and appearing to be arrogant though. It’s not an attractive quality in an accountant. If you have insufficient experience to advise in a specific situation, have the confidence to admit this to the client. Recommend that you or they take a second opinion from someone with more specialist experience. Your client will respect you for this and will have more confidence in your advice when you do give it. They will get to know that you don’t attempt to fake it. That, in itself, instills confidence.
  8. Be aware of first impressions.  If you have previously tried to persuade your client to do something but were ignored or if it became obvious you were making it up, then it will take time for your client to see you differently. You may have sowed the seed for them to routinely question or challenge your advice.
  9. Give your client space and time to think through your advice. If your advice is unwelcome then allow your client time to think it over. Do not attempt to pressure them into agreeing with you immediately.
  10. Remember clients generally want advice, not just answers. Accountants are renowned for being indecisive. There is even a joke about the client who went in search of a one-armed accountant. He wanted someone who wouldn’t start their advice with: “On the one hand…”I remember being trained years ago what to do if I felt compelled to tell clients that there were two or more options for them to consider. We need to remember that clients prefer paying to get advice, than for simply getting a list of options. We have to be prepared to reach a conclusion and offer our advice, for example with a phrase such as, “If it was me…”

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared in my weekly column on AccountingWeb.co.uk

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How naturally good are you at what you do?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills evidenced by successful accountants and partners can be developed merely by working alongside experienced colleagues.

A common view is that some people are naturally ‘good’ at things as though their experiences, background and training were irrelevant. Thus no more formal training is necessary. Older partners didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of becoming a full equity partner.  Is this true actually?

Many people believe that these skills develop over time and that no support or assistance is required.They repeat the old mantra ‘Practice makes perfect’. Yet this is very misleading. ‘Practice’ alone doesn’t make ‘perfect’.‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. And this is not always a good thing.

If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits. Equally we have probably all experienced at least one senior professional who is an unpleasant selfish bully. They practiced their approach and ‘perfected’ it. But no one would suggest that such an approach is ideal.

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something do you give up or take more lessons?  Or are you good enough? Does everyone else agree with you?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to stand out and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Have you ever written to a client and said ‘Thank you’?

Read this on a business networking forum and thought I should share it here:

This morning I received a letter from my accountants telling me that I had been voted by their staff as one of their clients that it has been most enjoyable working with over the past year; and then thanking me for my part in making their company a ‘great place to work’.

Wow. I felt great this morning! How often does that happen?

I feel this was genuinely meant as well. But the cynic in me did think – that’s very clever marketing for customer retention purposes… but if it is, it worked – so I am still happy and will still pay their fees this year!

For all you other accountants and service providers out there – you may want to try this…

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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7 steps to resolving client complaints

Towards the end  of my talk last night on How to Handle Difficult Clients, I summarised a seven step process that I have not previously shared on this blog:

1 Listen to the client They won’t listen to you until you have listened to them.

When their mouths are open, their ears are closed.

2 Offer EMPATHY first.

Do not start with

“It wasn’t my fault”

Make clear that you appreciate their position.

Eg: “I can understand why you must be upset by that.”

Repeat if necessary.

[You are empathising, not sympathising and not agreeing that you, or anyone else, has done something wrong]

3 Ask questions

Upset people tend to start in the middle

Ask questions so that you can get the whole story and are able to understand their problem.
4 Pause Make clear that you’re not offering some ‘pat’ prepared response.  What follows needs to evidence that you have been listening to what they’ve said.
5 Explain what YOU can do for them Outline what YOU can do.

If it’s not what they want, explain your reasons without BLAMING them.

Take responsibility for the follow up action

6 Keep your promise Do whatever you said you would do and ensure that anyone else involves does so too  (as far as you can anyway).

Don’t simply delegate or dump it.

7 Go one step further This makes the difference between quite good service and excellent service.

Contact the client afterwards and ask if they are happy with the solution.

If they pause before saying ‘yes’ – they aren’t really happy. Go through the loop again.

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How loyal will your clients be?

Telemarketing companies who focus on securing new clients for accountancy businesses tell me that they have never been busier. And there do seem to be a number of such specialist firms – in addition to the more general telemarketing companies that simply work for accountants as and when engaged to do so.

Some telemarketers are more effective than others. But effective or otherwise they are all calling the same corporate clients – probably including some of yours.  They source targets from local trade lists, Companies House data, Commercial list brokers and anywhere else they can trace key information.

The telemarketers generally offer the people they call tax reviews, to reduce tax bills and to provide a more hands on service. The better ones will find out what the client isn’t currently getting from their accountant and then introduce someone who promises to provide such a service.

Now, to be fair, many accountants who use telemarketing companies complain that the target client was only interested in reducing the fees they pay for accountancy services. And, as such, the introduction secured by the telemarketer was a waste of time.  Leaving such situations aside, on other occasions it often isn’t hard for a newcomer to promise a client more than they are currently getting – more attention, more advice, more reasonable fees and so on.

The question then is: How loyal will your better clients be when they are approached? And it is ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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