the seven essential elements in client service

businesswoman at desk smiling as she talks to manif you think you’re really delivering advisory services, think again.

by gary bolinger

“the cpa vision project 2011 and beyond,” launched by aicpa in 1999, was a landmark effort for an organization with 400,000 members. one of the results of the project was the definition of thecore purposefor cpas.

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cpas are the trusted professionals who enable people and organizations to shape their future. combining insight with integrity, cpas deliver value by:

  • communicating the total picture with clarity and objectivity
  • translating complex information into critical knowledge
  • anticipating and creating opportunities
  • designing pathways that transform vision into reality

several core competencies were identified in the vision project. the most relevant for this discussion is strategic and critical thinking skills (able to link data, knowledge, and insight together to provide quality advice for strategic decision-making).

in 2011 aicpa concluded it was time for an update on the vision project. the result was cpa horizons 2025. under the category of key insights and directions, horizons identified the role of cpas as a trusted advisor:

promote the cpa as the trusted advisor who, in addition to providing core cpa services, develops solutions to complex problems by integrating knowledge, expertise and resources from multiple disciplines.

this “strategic insight” said “promote” the cpa as the trusted advisor. horizons went on to say cpas must continue to evolve as strategic partners of clients, business and employers, applying multidisciplinary and integrated problem-solving to expand traditional services and enhance nontraditional offerings and the perception of trusted advisor.

unfortunately, there was no guidance to equip the cpa to serve in that role.

so where is the profession today? there will always be a need for compliance and transactional services. compliance and transactional services will certainly continue to evolve as standards and government regulations change. the impact of technology will continue to accelerate. some technologies (ai, rpa) may render obsolete some aspect of the current cpa role in providing compliance services.

the transition to true advisory services is going slowly. in some firms it is even agonizing. why? cpas are successful. firms are profitable. compliance is – if you will – “comfortable.” compliance services are almost like an annuity. there are rules, there are checklists, there are processes to manage risk. it is the foundation of success for most practitioners.

delivering advisory services – the essential guide | learn more

but clients want and need more. in“delivering advisory services – the essential guide” (richard walters, 2018), it is noted that the three most important things that clients say that they consistently want from their accountant are:

  • to understand them, their aims and their business
  • to be more proactive
  • to be in with them for the long haul

in short, clients want their cpa to beengagedwith them and their business. of course, many practitioners will exclaim “i am already engaged!” but think about this. you must demonstrate the following elements of engagement:

  1. big-picture perspective
  2. use of high-quality and carefully crafted questions
  3. interaction
  4. images – graphics that communicate simply and clearly
  5. collaboration
  6. active listening
  7. forward-facing, ready with next steps

the transition to true value-added advisory services can be a bit daunting. firms will say

  • what are the tools?
  • how do we define the process?
  • how do we better understand client needs and wants (vs. reacting to problems that occur)?

tools are available to assist in this important transition. when your practice develops effective systems and processes for forward-looking advisory services, the enhanced client relationships and financial rewards will be worth the investment.