We want to see our customers treated fairly — it’s in our CPA DNA. Somewhere between learning debits and credits, independence, objectivity, and integrity seep into our subconcious. I’m not quite sure how it happens, but I think it’s what leads to CPA’s being consistently ranked among the most trusted advisors, ahead of doctors, lawyers, and bankers. To be honest, it’s one of the things that attracted me to the profession.
That desire for upright honesty and fairness surfaces in a variety of different ways: the services we provide, the counsel we give, the interactions we have with third-parties on behalf of our customers…and, in our approach to pricing.
Common logic seems to tell us: to show that we treat each person fairly, we should price each service the same. That could be in the form of a stated hourly billing rate. Or as a standard menu pricing schedule. Or a simple flat fee.
The problem with pricing everyone the same, however, is that it forces us to treat everyone the same.
We lock ourselves into not being able to address our customer’s different circumstances. We limit ourselves to a pre-determined product and level of effort. We construct a one-size-fits-all solution, through which we try to squeeze each person. It’s a mass production world, that slowly cuts away the human dimension.
Customers want to be treated fairly too, as right they should. Sometimes they think this means we should have a standard quote — an hourly rate, a set fee. Anything other than that, and the seller is just trying to take advantage of them.
I would argue, however, that deep down, what customers truly want, what they need, is change — they want their situation to change for the better: removing a pain, or adding a gain. And change comes from exchange; the closed fist holds only one thing. Price is the cost of change. And no two changes are the same. So why should any two prices be the same?
Non-standard pricing allows for non-standard service. We’re freed to create new things, we’re given space to help our customers in the way they need to be helped, we can see them as human beings with unique situations and circumstances, and not just try to “standardize” them into our little accountant boxes. We become like the artists Kevin and Jason wrote about recently. Price should be as unique as the person it’s designed for.
Now for one more twist…
It’s hard to say that what we do is worthless. But once we understand that what we do has no inherent value, that is, that its value is actually a derivative of how it helps our customer, then we can stop looking at ourselves and our internal operations to determine pricing, and start looking at our customers, who are the true arbiters.
The classical definition of justice is to give each person their due. And we can only give each person their due, when we treat them as unique from the start.
Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another) :), and prefers dark over milk chocolate.