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The Amazon Effect: Unfair Judgement?

It’s hard not to notice the giant shadow cast by the likes of Amazon and other on-demand behemoths. These digital titans have recalibrated what “speedy service” means, and now, everyone, including your Aunt Mabel who still thinks Excel is a weight loss program, expects lightning-fast responses and Amazon Prime-level efficiency in all aspects of their lives, including their dealings with accountants. So, the million-dollar question (or perhaps, in our world, the million-dollar discrepancy): Are client expectations too high, or do we need to up our game?

The comparison between accountancy and on-demand services might feel like comparing apples to a complex tax code—unfair and, frankly, a bit absurd. Yet, it’s happening. Clients now operate in a world where a click brings next-day deliveries, instant movie streaming, and groceries to their door. This immediacy has seeped into their expectations of professional services, accountancy included. The bar hasn’t just been raised; it’s been launched into the stratosphere.

However, to cry foul and claim we’re being unfairly judged might be missing the point. Perhaps this is less about unfair comparisons and more about an opportunity—a wake-up call to innovate and evolve. The digital age is relentless and waits for no one, not even accountants.

Fostering Better Relationships in a Digital World

Building rapport and aligning expectations in this turbo-charged environment require a blend of old-school professionalism and cutting-edge technology. Personalisation is key. In the age of mass emails and generic content, taking the time to understand and cater to the specific needs of a client stands out. Tools like CRM software can help, but they’re just tools—the real magic lies in how we use them to enhance personal connections, not replace them.

Transparency and communication are also paramount. Setting realistic expectations from the get-go can prevent a lot of heartaches later. And let’s not forget the power of education—helping clients understand the intricacies of what we do can demystify the process and foster trust.

Take a few moments to watch this video. Imagine Dynamo is an accountant, Jamie Carragher and Mich Richards small business owners and lastly Roy Keane is your client.

The Mirror of Expectations

In the dynamic between accountants and their clients, expectations can be a two-way mirror. On one side, clients come with their own set of expectations based on their past experiences, industry standards, and what they’ve been promised through marketing and sales pitches. On the other, accountants may project their own expectations onto their clients, influenced by their professional standards, personal benchmarks for success, and perceptions of what they believe their clients need. Some of this may be deep rooted in what we see software vendors advertising to small business owners and we feel we need to live up to that mark…..but are small business owners buying the marketing spin?

The Projection Phenomenon

Do we, as accountants, project our own expectations onto our clients? Absolutely. It’s a human trait to project our standards, beliefs, and even our aspirations onto others. For instance, an accountant who prides themselves on meticulous detail and precision might assume that every client values these traits above all else, potentially overlooking other client priorities like speed or innovative financial strategies.

It’s possible we’re fretting over trifles, yet the key to dispelling those doubts lies in engaging directly with your clients. Below, I’ve laid out a sample survey as a kick-starter for this crucial dialogue, aimed at capturing the genuine expectations of your clientele—beyond assumptions and certainly sidestepping any biases software vendors might pitch. The onus falls on you to weave these insights into actionable strategies. This encompasses everything from reconsidering adjustments you’re willing to make, refining your marketing narratives, to aligning your service offerings more closely with what your clients are genuinely seeking.

Aligning Expectations

The crux of the matter is alignment. Misalignment occurs when there’s a significant gap between what clients expect and what accountants deliver, often fuelled by unspoken assumptions or unchecked projections. These are the unwritten rules of engagement not factored into engagement letters. Here’s where the real work begins:

  1. Communication is Key: Open, honest, and ongoing dialogue about expectations, needs, and goals is vital. It’s not just about stating services; it’s about understanding what success looks like for each client. How do I do this? Seek feedback from clients at face-to-face meetings. Ask the question.
  2. Feedback Loops: Implementing regular feedback mechanisms can help catch and correct misalignments early. This is where you learn if your projected expectations are off base. How do I do this? Add a link to a feedback form at the end of each engagement communication. When you send the payroll, VAT information or management accounts. Include a link – did we meet your expectations?
  3. Education and Onboarding: Educating clients about what they can realistically expect and why certain processes are in place helps set a common ground of understanding. Similarly, understanding a client’s business and personal financial goals can tailor your approach to meet their specific needs. How do I do this? Create a simple one pager of What We Do and Our Expectations and What You Do and Your Expectations to run through at new client meetings. If there is a misalignment better to find out now.
  4. Managing Expectations: It’s about finding that sweet spot between under promising and overdelivering. Clear, realistic expectations prevent the disappointment that can arise from projection mismatches. How do I do this? Follow up on steps 1 to 3, iterate and communicate.

The Reflective Practice

The question of whose expectations we’re meeting—ours or our clients’—serves as a reminder of the reflective practice required in professional services. Regularly questioning this dynamic can lead to more empathetic, client-centred services where the accountant’s expertise meets the client’s needs in a harmonious balance.

The Overpromise and Underdeliver Dilemma

It’s an age-old tale: the allure of snazzy marketing promising the moon, only for reality to fall short. Are accountants guilty of this? Sometimes, perhaps. The temptation to overpromise in a bid to snag clients is real, but it’s a short-term strategy with long-term repercussions. Trust, once broken, is hard to rebuild.

Overpromising and underdelivering is one the biggest reasons for misalignment of client expectations. That is something you can directly impact immediately.

Remedies and Rethinking Strategies

So, what’s the cure? One approach could be to adopt a “less is more” philosophy. Quality over quantity. By focusing on fewer clients but providing a more in-depth, tailored service, accountants can enhance value and justify higher fees. It’s about deepening relationships, not just expanding the client list.

There’s a compelling argument to be made for focusing on growing fees from existing clients rather than constantly hunting new ones. It’s about adding value, whether through additional services, strategic advice, or leveraging technology to offer insights that can help a business grow. This approach not only solidifies client relationships but also encourages a more sustainable business model.

Conclusion

In essence, the expectations in the accountant-client relationship are a blend of both parties’ visions, needs, and standards. Recognising and navigating this blending process is crucial. It requires a mix of communication, adjustment, and sometimes, a bit of humility to admit when our projections might not align with our clients’ realities. By continuously seeking to understand and adapt to our clients’ evolving expectations, we foster stronger, more resilient professional relationships built on mutual respect and shared goals.

Are client expectations too high? Perhaps. But maybe that’s the wrong question. Instead, we should ask how we can meet these expectations in a way that’s both sustainable for us and beneficial for our clients. The digital world offers as many opportunities as it does challenges. It’s about finding the right balance, leveraging technology to enhance our services while not losing the personal touch that lies at the heart of any successful professional relationship.

As accountants, we’re not just number crunchers; we’re advisors, confidants, and sometimes even therapists. By focusing on building strong, personal relationships with our clients and aligning our services with their digital-age expectations, we can not only meet the high bar set by the Amazons of the world but perhaps even raise it a little ourselves.

Additional Resources:

Accountant-Client Expectation and Satisfaction Survey

Introduction

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey. Your feedback is crucial in helping us understand your needs and how we can improve our services to serve you better. This survey should take approximately 5-10 minutes to complete.

Section 1: About Your Expectations

1. Services Expected

What specific services do you expect to receive from your accountant? (e.g., tax preparation, financial advising, bookkeeping, etc.)  

2. Communication Preferences

How do you prefer to communicate with us? (Options: Email, Phone, In-person, Video call, Others)

How often would you like to receive updates or communications from us? (Options: Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Annually, As needed)

3. Technology and Tools

How important is the use of modern technology (e.g., cloud-based accounting, mobile access, etc.) in the services we provide to you? (Scale: Not important – Very important)

Are there any tools or technologies you wish we would start using or offer as part of our service?

4. Advisory and Proactive Insights

How valuable is proactive business and financial advice to you? (Scale: Not valuable – Extremely valuable)

Can you provide an example of a situation where proactive advice from us would be beneficial?

5. Personalisation and Understanding

How important is it that we offer personalised services tailored to your specific needs and industry? (Scale: Not important – Very important)

Do you feel that we understand your business/industry well? (Yes/No) If no, what areas do you think we could improve our understanding?

Section 2: Satisfaction and Performance

6. Satisfaction with Services Provided

How satisfied are you with the quality and range of services provided? (Scale: Very dissatisfied – Very satisfied)

7. Communication and Responsiveness

How would you rate our responsiveness and effectiveness in communication? (Scale: Very poor – Excellent)

Are there any comments or suggestions you have regarding our communication?

8. Meeting Expectations

To what extent have we met your initial expectations? (Scale: Not at all – Fully met)

Are there specific areas where you feel we’ve exceeded your expectations or areas where we’ve fallen short?

9. Trust and Confidence

How confident are you in our ability to handle your accounting needs? (Scale: Not confident at all – Extremely confident)

How would you rate the level of trust between us? (Scale: Very low – Very high)

10. Value for Money

How do you perceive the value for money of our services? (Scale: Poor value – Excellent value)

Section 3: Improvement and Future Services

11. Areas for Improvement

What are the main areas where you think we could improve?

12. Additional Services

Are there any services or offerings you wish we provided that we currently do not?

13. Referrals

Based on your experience, how likely are you to refer our services to others? (Scale: Very unlikely – Very likely)

What improvements or changes would increase the likelihood of you referring us?

Closing

Thank you for completing this survey. Your feedback is invaluable to us. If you have any additional comments or suggestions, please feel free to share them below.

[Open Text Field for Additional Comments]

This survey can be adapted to include more specific questions related to your specialisations or to address recent changes in the industry that might affect client expectations. Collecting and acting on this feedback is key to aligning services with client needs and ensuring a high level of satisfaction.

Getting clients to engage in the Survey

Ensuring a high response rate to your survey, especially to capture a broad spectrum of clients, not just the most satisfied ones, involves strategic planning and execution. Here are top tips to maximise participation and ensure you get a comprehensive overview of feedback from your client base:

1. Communicate the Purpose Clearly

Why It Matters: People are more likely to participate if they understand why their feedback is valuable and how it will be used to make tangible improvements.

How to Do It: Be transparent about the survey’s goals in your invitation. Explain how their input will contribute to enhancing the services they receive.

2. Ensure Anonymity and Confidentiality

Why It Matters: Clients may be more open and honest in their responses if they know their feedback won’t be linked back to them personally.

How to Do It: Clearly state in your survey introduction that responses will be anonymous and data will be used in aggregate form only.

3. Make It Accessible and Convenient

Why It Matters: The easier it is to complete the survey, the higher the likelihood of participation.

How to Do It: Ensure the survey is mobile-friendly, as many people use their phones for such tasks. Keep the survey length reasonable, ideally taking no more than 5-10 minutes to complete.

4. Offer Incentives

Why It Matters: A small token of appreciation can significantly increase response rates.

How to Do It: Offer a discount on future services, entry into a prize draw, or a charitable donation for each completed survey. Ensure the incentive is appealing to your client base.

5. Leverage Multiple Channels for Distribution

Why It Matters: Different clients prefer different communication methods. Using multiple channels increases your reach.

How to Do It: Distribute the survey via email, text message, and through social media channels if appropriate. Consider also a direct mail option for clients who prefer traditional methods.

6. Personalize the Invitation

Why It Matters: Personalized communications are more engaging and can boost response rates.

How to Do It: Use the client’s name and possibly reference any recent interactions in the survey invitation to make it feel more personal.

7. Set a Deadline and Send Reminders

Why It Matters: A sense of urgency can motivate action, and reminders catch those who might have forgotten or missed the initial invitation.

How to Do It: Set a clear deadline for survey responses and send a polite reminder halfway through the response period and a few days before the deadline.

8. Share Results and Follow-Up Actions

Why It Matters: Showing that you value and act on client feedback encourages participation in future surveys.

How to Do It: Once the survey is complete and the results are analysed, share the findings and your action plan with your clients through an email, newsletter, or a dedicated section on your website.

9. Segment Your Audience

Why It Matters: Tailoring the survey content to different segments of your client base can make it more relevant and increase the chances of completion.

How to Do It: Use different versions of the survey or tailor questions based on the client segment, such as small business owners vs. individual clients, to ensure the questions are pertinent to their experiences.

By implementing these strategies, you’ll not only increase the likelihood of receiving a broad and representative set of responses but also strengthen your relationships with clients by showing that you value their input and are committed to meeting their needs.