On a recent family vacation to Perdido Key, Florida, we had dinner at Fisherman’s Corner—a hole in the wall restaurant that prepares every dish from scratch and has become our family’s favorite when we are in the area. It was hot and we had a large group so I went inside to order drinks for us while we waited. Despite being in the middle of the dinner rush, the waiter smiled at me, handed me the drinks and said, “We use the honor system here, so just simply tell your waiter when you are seated how many drinks you had.” WOW! I realize they trust me to not take advantage of their hospitality and generosity, but our customer experience (which is always great there) just soared to an even higher level of brand loyalty. It was evident that they cared about our experience AND they trusted us. Loyalty grows when trust is extended.
We also see the power and speed of trust with brands like Zappos and Amazon. Everything about their simple and easy return policies shout to us, “We care about your experience and we trust you not to take advantage of us.” Jeff Bezos says, “We want Amazon Prime to be such a value that you ask yourself, why wouldn’t we use it?” Two powerful brands built by extending trust—in hopes customers will also extend trust to them.
In public accounting, we are experiencing an ever-increasing gap in client trust which is leading to less brand loyalty, more client churn and ultimately, less relevance. Another sign of this trust gap is the downward pressure on fees and the growing perception that this same level of service is available from any other firm and the only difference they can see is price. (Commodity is the ugly word here.) It is a sign that our clients are not confident they are getting the value they should from our relationship.
If we look closely at some of our common business practices, we might find that we are damaging or slowing down the flow of trust that clients want with their CPA firm. Just for fun, realizing some firms are better than others, let’s explore just a few possible trust vampires that might be found in public accounting.
First, firms do not commonly give written satisfaction guarantees or the ability for the client to adjust our fees for the value they actually experienced. How do we feel when we do business with a company that provides that type of guarantee, that extension of absolute trust in us, before we make the purchase?
We also frequently widen the trust gap by not providing them with certainty in price. How do you feel when you do not know what your air conditioner repair is going to cost? Faced with two quotes, would you hire the $1200 and we can have it ready tomorrow company or the company that says we are going to have to take it apart and see what all is going on—our minimum service call is $375 and then its $120 an hour labor plus parts. More importantly, which one sounds the most like our conversations with clients on projects?
What about our common practice of billing for services, overruns, additional time and additional scope work without open dialogue on their expectations prior to doing the work? We assume they trust us and will call if they have a problem with the bill. After all, we’ve served them for years—they trust us, right? This is commonly referred to as “Bill & Duck” and it is very prevalent in public accounting. What if Zappos sent you a $10 surcharge one month because they had an unusually high experience of returned shoes? I could only hope for that at my house…
Our assumptions of trust have made us complacent which leads to us not having proactive direct and open dialogue to understand what their actual expectations are—expectations that are changing rapidly. And again, widens gap in trust.
Rarely are partners conducting a proactive meeting where we really seek their input on how we can be better. Why aren’t we routinely visiting with our clients after we complete the work to gauge their satisfaction level?
Client perception matters. We cannot take our clients’ trust for granted. We are blessed to still be considered one of the highest trusted professions, but that will swiftly be blown away if we do not realize the trust gap is rapidly expanding.
It’s time for our business and client service models to change. The traditional prevalent business model and business practices will not serve us well in a marketplace demanding that we find ways to be relevant and valuable. How can we change our business model to ensure that we persistently and proactively work on building trust? What business practices do we have that are hurting or expanding our trust gap with clients? What assumptions are we making about our client relationships that are really just convenient comfort zones for us?
Trust is the foundation of a wonderful client experience. Trust also allows us to err, which is human, and yet recover. The best way to gain trust is to extend trust first. [Tweet This] How can we #beEvenBetter at extending trust to our clients first?
When we extend trust first, we demonstrate that we care about them. Being trustworthy is great and necessary, but we only get our clients trust if they decide to give it to us. In the model of Amazon Prime and Jeff Bezos, let’s make our client experience valuable by giving trust in a way that causes them to say, “Why wouldn’t we use them?”