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Deeper Weekend 2014

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Jennifer BlumerMany of us are wrapping up a tough tax season and right now I bet you can name a handful of wonderful clients. And possibly some you would rather refer elsewhere.

Right now, while it’s fresh on your mind, think through these questions with specific customers in mind. I’ll be using two of our customers (names changed) as an example, Bob and Jane.

Did your customer fight your process?

Bob seemed to find our processes easy. He had no trouble paying online before the work was done. He was happy to know the price before the work was done. He did not struggle with reviewing his tax return online, using our online portals to deliver documents, or signing his agreement online. In fact, after I emailed him to let him know his returns had been accepted, he replied with a “You guys rock!” email.

On the other hand, Jane, a long time customer, was frustrated. We used to bill after the fact and clients paid when they picked up their tax returns in the office. We now price upfront and ask to be paid before we prepare the tax return. Jane did not pay upfront. We did not fight her though because she has always paid before. Also, since she lives in a different city, she has always used mail to deliver documents to us. We no longer accept paper, and we request that our customers deliver documents in their secure online portals. Although she had used mail with no complaints, she found using online and digital services “impersonal.”

Was your customer able to handle your technology?

Bob loves using a portal and signing documents online. He is happy to not have an errand to run to drop off his documents…and then later the one he forgot to bring the first time. He had no problem using email as a means of communication or having online meetings or phone conversations when email was too cumbersome.

Jane was not so sure about using a portal. We have had them available for a few years, but this was the first year it was not optional. One of our Customer Allies had made a really helpful tutorial video about the portals. Jane was able to use the portal after viewing the brief video. However, she struggled tremendously with signing forms online (only two of our customers had trouble the whole tax season) and eventually I gave them to her in her portal so she could print them and mail them to us after signing.

Did you enjoy seeing this person again?

It’s always good to catch up with Bob. He was one of our bigger customers a few years ago. He no longer owns a business, but we still prepare his individual tax return.

Jane has always been pleasant enough, but our virtual processes really brought out a side of her we had not seen. She was frustrated, and she let us know.

Was your team happy or frustrated by this customer?

Bob was easy to serve and it was a pleasant transaction. We would love to serve him in other ways. Right now, it’s not necessary, but we’ll help him with some tax planning later in the year.

Jane was not unpleasant to serve until the very end. However, we had to work a little harder as she needed more hand holding. However, from her perspective, she was the one that had more work. This was not a win-win scenario at all.

How was your communication? Did the customer understand what was expected? Did he understand your process or was there a lot of confusion?

If Bob was confused, he never showed it. However, I am not sure Jane understood what working with a virtual firm would mean. We actually had a document last tax season that we gave to customers explaining what our going virtual would mean to them. There were also a number of follow up emails and blog posts throughout the transition. Somehow though, we missed the mark in serving Jane. After all of our warnings about no paper and no office, she was still willing to work with us. Although we tried to simplify every step, for Jane, nothing was simple.

What now?

We will continue to work with Bob. Jane however will be better served by a more traditional CPA. Our goal is not to serve every customer with a checkbook, but the ones that fit our niche. Jane was what we call a legacy client. She was a customer way back before we implemented digital processes. We changed, but she did not. She will not be our customer anymore because in spite of our best efforts to simplify things for her, she needs paper. She needs mail or a CPA close enough to visit in person. We will never make her happy.

In the end, it’s important to know who you can best serve. You, the business owner, have to be willing to make decisions about your business at the risk of making some people unhappy. We have been strategic about going virtual, paperless, value pricing, creating a ROWE, and serving a niche. These changes have made serving the right customer even better. And more fun! But the wrong customer is miserable, and it’s our job to let them go. We managed to protect some customers from the frustration by letting them go early in the season (or last year), but we failed to do that quickly enough with Jane.

While it was not the best experience with Jane, we cannot let her preferences guide our business. The customer is not always right. At least, the customer is not always a right fit for your business model. Don’t put off making the necessary and strategic changes for your company to please the wrong customer. I promise, the right customers will love what you do when you create services with their needs in mind.

Jennifer earned her degree in Early Childhood Education from Winthrop University. She has taught in public school and, more recently, her own children at the Blumer Christian Academy for Girls. Jennifer serves the Thriveal members as the Community Manager. She also produces two podcasts, The Thrivecastand The Businessology Show and serves as the Mother Hen/Firm Administrator/Chief Jason-Herder for Blumer & Associates CPAs. She loves college football, especially the South Carolina Gamecocks. Jennifer and her husband, Jason Blumer, live in Greenville, SC with their three beautiful daughters and their grumpy miniature daschund, Rose.

  • On 04-14-2013 at 10:41 pm, Michael Wall said:

    Well timed and beautifully written Jennifer.

    As we continue to grow and develop practices we love, we need to keep in mind that our legacy clients may no longer be well served by us. That’s not an easy realization for many practitioners because you don’t want to make changes to your practice if it will hurt those clients who you have served for years (and love serving). But not making those changes will only hurt you and your team in the long run.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-15-2013 at 12:53 pm, Jennifer said:

      Thanks Michael. I just want people to think about it either way. If serving those clients is RIGHT for your firm,then by all means, do it! I’m just glad we didn’t decide to forego the right strategies and changes for us because of customers that need to be served in a way that no longer fits with our goals and plans for the future. I do wish we had helped Jane transition to a different CPA before we frustrated her.

      Reply
  • On 04-15-2013 at 1:44 am, Jody Padar said:

    I really like this post. I think it’s really simplifies how serving the “wrong customer” creates disruption in a firm. I totally get it. However, I think it needs to be noted that Some firms have legacy clients and legacy owners of 30 plus years. Not everyone is ready to niche and leave behind all of the legacy. Sometimes you may need to make certain process “tech handicapped accessible” for legacy clients. It’s Ok to have two ways of serving a customer. Maybe not ideal but eventually, that client base will die and phase out. However, sometimes firing a client of 40 plus years is not the right thing to do.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-15-2013 at 1:06 pm, Jennifer said:

      Thanks for the comment Jody. A few thoughts…

      I agree that not everyone has to choose a niche. And if a person makes that choice and wants to be a generalist, then she (or he) should definitely have ways of serving that will meet the needs of the majority. Makes perfect sense!

      However, once you decide to serve a very specific group, then your services need to be based on THEIR needs. In our case (being virtual and serving a very tech savvy niche), we really need everything to be digitized and cloud based. So for us, the KINDEST thing we can do for those long time customers is to help them transition to a firm that will serve them well without frustration. It’s not that we don’t care about them that makes us let them go; it’s that we care for them very much! We would be arrogant to think that we could serve them better than someone else. Or it would be our fear that kept them. OR we would have to compromise our chosen biz model to make our services fit them.

      In the end, we all have to choose what is right for us. But I don’t want to hurt anymore customers by forcing them to work within our model if it’s not right for them. And I don’t want us to be forced to serve in a way that is hard for us! Sometimes the best thing really is to prune relationships that no longer work.

      Reply
  • On 04-15-2013 at 2:23 pm, Jonathan Godwin said:

    I love this article. Meghan and I were talking about this EXACT thing over the weekend, and how we have some clients who are a breeze to work with, and some that just fight us constantly. Those are usually the clients that have been with you forever, like you said, and the changes that we undertake to serve all our clients better are not met warmly by them. You hate to say to them “You may be better served elsewhere” but what else can you do other than continue to have conflict where the relationship is concerned? I think that your words are well-timed and insightful, and they just reminded me that I need to add the pruning process to my task list for next month.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-15-2013 at 6:34 pm, Jennifer said:

      Thanks for the feedback Jonathan! Enjoy post-crazy season!

      Reply
  • On 04-15-2013 at 2:23 pm, Melinda Guillemette said:

    Very on point, Jennifer. Most of my CPA friends have a “I am firing this SOB client right after tax season” list, but they rarely act on it. They’re doing no one a favor by keeping clients who are a poor fit for their operations, values, or personalities. You are very wise and kind to cut these clients loose.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-15-2013 at 6:35 pm, Jennifer said:

      If we have changed and they have not, they’d really be happier elsewhere anyway. 🙂

      Reply
  • On 04-15-2013 at 6:03 pm, Trevor said:

    Great post! Our team definitely has a few of those clients. Good topic to brainstorm over a few cocktails at our tax party this afternoon 🙂

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-15-2013 at 6:36 pm, Jennifer said:

      Enjoy those cocktails Trevor! There are so many amazing customers out there. The energy zappers can be served better somewhere else. Make room for those that really get you and your firm. 🙂

      Reply
  • On 04-15-2013 at 7:53 pm, Kevin McCoy said:

    Great comparison Jennifer. Today has taught me that the product is rarely the “make or break” issue in working with someone, and whether they love or hate you. The communication and processes are such a huge part of it, which can be terribly frustrating when you control neither.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Blumer

      On 04-16-2013 at 5:57 pm, Jennifer said:

      That really would be frustrating Kevin. I hope you are really enjoying this being the day AFTER. Hope to see more of you now!

      Reply
  • On 04-19-2013 at 5:40 pm, Joel Ungar said:

    Right on target Jennifer. Brava.

    Reply
  • On 03-03-2016 at 10:46 pm, Kristine said:

    Thanks! This is really on target and a good reminder.

    Reply

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