Partner An unnamed firm
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Customer satisfaction

Are some clients more equal than others?

8th May 2018
Partner An unnamed firm
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In recent years, the world has changed. Now, giving poor service has become the norm – as long as you can get away with it.

Whether it is the local council closing libraries and reducing rubbish collection, shops in which you cannot find an assistant or sitting at home for two days waiting for something to be delivered, standards are not what they used to be.

In an effort to make profits, the large accountancy practices are also trying to develop a similar strategy. Rather than following an ethos that each client is equally important and should get the best service that money can buy, they are now looking at the quality (and more importantly quantity) of the fee before determining the offering.

The idea is to stratify clients into a number of categories. The A-list clients will get the best service that the firm can offer, meeting partners regularly, getting top-level advice and paying through the nose for the privilege. At the other end of the scale, those on the C-list will get a slow, ponderous product delivered by junior employees or, increasingly, technology with little or no human input.

An obvious example is the private client/personal tax return market. Within this structure, the A-list client might have quarterly meetings with their partner or director, receive strategic advice on how to minimise liabilities, find their tax return turned around almost instantly and face a fee in five figures.

The B-list client will probably get a meeting once a year with a director or senior manager, have no more connection with the partner than seeing his or her name at the bottom of a fee letter but still get a timely tax return service and some relatively basic strategic advice. For this, they will pay a fee well into thousands again plus VAT.

At the bottom of the scale, the C-listers will get the worst that their accountants can get away with. This will be a basic tax return service delivered from India with almost no personal interaction from the UK. The cost will be minimal and the service worse.

For the most part, clients will probably not be given an opportunity to choose which list they wish to join. This might be a mistake, because most of us when given the choice between the Rolls-Royce service for £100,000, the BMW for £30,000 or second hand Fiat 500 at a mere £3,000 know exactly what we want to buy. I would like to think that the same should apply to audits and tax return/advisory services.

I have no doubt that in some cases clients might be desperately unhappy about paying vast fees for services that they don’t need. On the other hand, I worry that others will find themselves with excessive tax bills because they are not being offered the kind of service to be expected when they signed up with the kind of firm that has three or four initials as a name and a reputation for being one of the best in the market.

Is this policy right? As with councils and big corporates, large firms of accountants probably care very little about anyone but potential troublemakers and more particularly the A-list superstars. I worry about this because, in the long-term, it could mean that not only those firms that pursue these practices but also everyone else in the profession is tarred with the same brush as members of an industry that provides a terrible service and couldn’t care less about clients and that is not where I want to be.

Replies (2)

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By andy.partridge
10th May 2018 16:34

I am not sure what the point is. Some clients are prepared to pay more than others. The ones that pay more get a better service. Quelle surprise!

That doesn't leave the money-conscious client with a 'terrible' service, it leaves them with a service that suits their budget. You might call this 'basic', 'standard' or something else, but it is not by default 'terrible'.

Firms that provide terrible service will, I believe, have a culture that is evident to clients irrespective of what they pay. Not always do you get what you pay for.

We know that clients like their advisors to be proactive, to be ahead of the game, to be offering them ideas on tax savings and business improvements. The trouble is, relatively few clients think it important enough to pay extra for. There is still the belief that accountants are an overhead, not an investment, and businesses like to keep their overheads low.

The ranking of clients, in part, reflects the gap between what they are prepared to pay and the services they need, along with the ease or difficulty the business relationship with them presents.

This is such a long way from 'giving poor service has become the norm'. I do not recognise it. Clients who receive poor service, but demand good service will surely look for pastures new. They are welcome here, but only if they resist seeking a fee reduction as well. That's the usual reason for changing firms . . . isn't it?

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By ohgoodgodno
09th May 2018 14:04

isnt it worth remembering that we provide a service and to be able to do that well it requires clients to at least meet us half way and provide books and records that are needed as well as answering queries etc

I'd reclass you listing somewhat - A clients are those that will allow you to do the job properly by being cooperative and providing whats needed when its needed / requested.

D clients are those that wont let you do the job properly as they dont appreciate that you cant work with fresh air! regardless of fees charged, you'll always want to move these clients on as they are only ever waste your time

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