I recently had the honor to be invited to a seminar at one of the largest accounting firms in the world. After a tour of their brand new facility, we spent the rest of the day listening to panels and speakers on a wide-ranging number of topics – from diversity in the workplace to auditing robots (I won’t get to that one in this post). It was an impressive display to say the least – in terms of both office space and their capabilities.
I left that afternoon in a state of childlike wonder. It’s easy to get engrossed in your own little world and lose perspective of where you stand in the grand scheme. As a refresher for the reader, in my accounting practice I work on my own – an army of one, if you will. So to spend time at a company that employs hundreds of thousands across the world was a bit humbling.
One of the most impressive sights was a presentation on data analytics. More so than the fancy name, I was thoroughly impressed by two things. First was the ability to easily use data in a purely visual presentation. I am convinced you could take someone off the street with no financial background and they would not have struggled to comprehend the message.
Using an entire wall of high definition TV screens, our host brought up a map of the United States (think Google Earth). He then layered onto it geographic regions that an unnamed client currently did business in. On top of that, he was able to layer in geographic regions that held the most potential for expansion. The latter based on criteria that the user could alter and input. This information could then be used by executives to decide where to expand.
The second and perhaps more humbling feature of the presentation was all of the underlying data that the system had to draw upon and populate these simulations from. Not only was there NASA level computing power behind the simulation, there was also an untold amount of client data to draw upon – an amount that only a global company would have access to.
I have to admit that I came away from that day feeling like a NEANDERTHAL. The services I offer don’t hold a candle to what I saw, but then again my clients aren’t anything like theirs either. Nonetheless, it was truly impressive.
I’m not saying we all need to go out and become conglomerates or mega corporations, but we can look for inspiration just about anywhere. External stimuli can get the old neurons firing and help us create new ideas.
This experience made me think about the future of the profession, but it also reminded me of some basic underlying principles of customer service. Here were a few that I took away from it:
Communicate in a manner your customer understands. If you’re an accountant, don’t assume your customer lives and breathes financial statements. Strive to understand how they best consume information and appreciate the fact that it may be different from how you do it. I have a fond memory of a brainstorming session with Alexis Kimbrough from Growth Group (a CPA firm that specializes in clients in the music industry) during which we thought up new ways to convey financial information to musicians. This was a fun exercise and had some interesting results such as, “you earned 5 Fender guitars’ worth of profit last month.” So consider your audience and try to think outside the box to best communicate.
Remember to ask your customers what they really want. As accountants it’s easy to try and deliver a tax return or financial statements, but that may not solve any of your customers’ problems. They may in fact want advice on where to expand or how to decide on a new piece of equipment. You won’t know until you ask.
Don’t be afraid to pitch a new service you believe would be valuable. The opposing sentiment is valid too. Henry Ford is often credited with saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.” I won’t argue the source, but I do believe there is wisdom in those words. As with other new products, sometimes you have to bring the horse to the iPhone.
We need to be in constant search of new experiences, regardless of the source – big or small. These experiences will help us form new ideas. Not every idea will pan out, but it’s important not to get stale. Our customers’ problems today may not be the same tomorrow.
Bryan is a recent cliff jumper looking forward to running a firm his own way. He aims to catalog his experiences here for future generations of cliff jumpers to learn from. Starting in January 2015, he will also be the Visiting Instructor in Accounting at Assumption College located in Worcester, MA. Bryan is also the co-host of a new podcast, Ctrl Alterego, which follows the saga of two new businesses in different stages of development. He has joined forces with Barrett Young of The Green Abacus for this adventure. Follow along atwww.ctrlalterego.com.