Attestation Update – A&A for CPAs

Technical stuff for CPAs providing attestation services

Getting naked – Not what you think. It’s a book. Wait. Still not what you think. It’s about transparency in business relationships.

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Subtitle of the book is A business fable… about shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty.  It’s a book by Patrick Lencioni which you can find here.  As with his other books, it is an entertaining fictional story that illustrates the points instead of making them directly.

Primary focus of the book is business consultants.  It applies to directly to anyone in business working with external clients.  It can also apply to many people in the ministry world.

He suggests there are three fears that get in the way of loyalty from your clients.  These fears tear down transparency and openness.  Getting past those fears in order to improve transparency is the way this book can help anyone in business or ministry.

First – fear of losing the business.

Sometimes a service provider is so scared of losing business that the opportunity to do something that really helps the client is skipped over in order to protect the revenue stream.  

It is scary to recommend what really needs to be done or to call attention to a business-threatening problem if there is a danger of giving offense and losing the work.  Sometimes what a client really needs is a very painful discussion. 

Mr. Lencioni suggests the customers will so treasure someone who speaks the truth even if it puts business at risk that the customer will become far more loyal to the provider.

Second – fear of being embarrassed.

Making mistakes or looking dumb is quite painful.  Doing so in front of clients is doubly so. We’ve all been there.

In a consulting environment, a service provider needs to be willing to throw out for discussion all of the ideas that seem to make sense.  The client might realize those are ridiculous or obviously don’t fit.  That would produce embarrassment.  

But a good client will value a service provider that throws out all the ideas that seem to make sense.  If the service provider is not willing to accept the risk of occasionally offering an idea that is silly, the client might miss a gem that pays for years of consulting! 

Mr. Lencioni suggests that customers will tremendously value advisors that risk embarrassment in order to help them.

The second fear is rooted in pride, according to Mr. Lencioni.  Anything driven by pride is a serious problem.  How dangerous to let our pride get in the way of helping our clients.  We need to let go of pride if serving clients is the most important thing.

Third – fear of feeling inferior.

Consultants, CPAs, attorneys, architects, and other service providers with those skill levels have a lot of standing and respect. If protecting that image and respect is more important than serving the client, that will affect the service and advice provided.

On the hand, if you as a service provider put the client’s reputation ahead of yours, you have a better chance of delivering the service the client really needs.  Sometimes that might be doing something that is “below” you. 

If doing some task that is beneath you is what it takes for your client to succeed, any client that is worth having will quickly realize that their success is really important to you.

Mr. Lencioni suggests that taking the risk of looking inferior will create very high loyalty of your client to you, in addition to producing successes for your client.

Mr. Lencioni identifies ego as the root of this fear.

I will try on some of that nakedness here that Mr. Lencioni recommends. Perhaps you will see more transparency than you would expect from a CPA.

I’m sad to admit that I have avoided suggestions and recommendations that clients really needed to hear because of the risk that instead of being well received, the painful discussion might produce lots of irritation with me.

I’m working to apply these lessons. I’m wrapping up some engagements in my practice and these suggestions made the wrap-up easier.  Moving my pride (point 2 above) and ego (point 3 above) to the back burner made it really easy to accept revisions to reports and opened my ears to client’s observations.

I’m now realizing that I’ve been working with these ideas, although in a milder and unstated form, for a number of years.  Specifically in the CPA firm environment, it is a lot easier to accept client suggestions for changes to the financial statements and recommendation letters when you remember the goal is to serve the client and help them improve.  The goal is not to showcase what a superb report writer you are.  It is difficult, but worth the effort.

I heartily recommend the book to everyone in business and ministry.

Written by Jim Ulvog

September 14, 2011, 7:55 am at 7:55 am

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