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Who calls the shots – the accountant or the client?

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When a client wants a meeting at their premises but that isn’t the way the accountant likes to work, who should have the final say? 

28th Mar 2024
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AccountingWEB member, bettybobbymeggie, sought advice on Any Answers after their client requested a face-to-face meeting at the client’s location, despite bettybobbymeggie’s preference for online meetings. 

“Back in the day I’d have a few face-to-face meetings but things have moved on and mostly these are done on a call or via Zoom, or questions are settled via email. Face-to-face meetings that do happen are always at my office, but I have one client who wants me to go to them,” they wrote.

Bettybobbymeggie continued, “It’s not about the time and money I’m losing but about the power a client has (or think they have) over me. I hate the idea that I have a phone with 200+ numbers in it and at any point, any one of them can call me and demand a meeting at their premises and I just have to trot along like a lap dog. I think I am within my rights to question the need for any meeting if I think it can be done more efficiently via email/phone/Zoom.”

Their question about why should they travel when the client could do the same raised issues about who has authority in the accountant-client relationship and whether on-site visits are no longer necessary.

Community reaction 

Many members disagreed with bettybobbymeggie’s opinion and preferred to see the client at their location. 

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Replies (34)

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By Justin Bryant
28th Mar 2024 12:18

A client without an accountant is still a client. However, an accountant without a client isn't an accountant.

The customer is always right basically (or at least they used to be in the pre-millennial days).

Thanks (7)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Roland195
28th Mar 2024 12:56

Yeah but we certainly showed him, damn his impertinence. Visit him at his own office? Might as well offer to wash his car while we are at it.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By FactChecker
28th Mar 2024 13:18

"The customer is always right basically (or at least they used to be in the pre-millennial days)."

Even then though there were limits.
As a young whipper-snapper I was sent on my own to visit the founder/owner of our biggest client, who opened by explaining to me that "You do know that the customer is always right?"
Initially taken aback, he eventually laughed at my reply:
"Well, nearly always; so long as you follow our advice".

Thanks (10)
Replying to FactChecker:
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By Paul Crowley
28th Mar 2024 13:38

He must have been from the US.

Thanks (5)
Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By kim.shaw-and-co.com
28th Mar 2024 21:05

Paul Crowley wrote:

He must have been from the US.

... as long as he wasn't trying to fly on a US airline !

Thanks (5)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
28th Mar 2024 16:48

Justin Bryant wrote:

A client without an accountant is still a client. However, an accountant without a client isn't an accountant.

Neither of those statements are true. At best, a client without an accountant is a potential client.
Quote:

The customer is always right basically (or at least they used to be in the pre-millennial days).

"The customer is always right IN MATTERS OF TASTE" was the original quote. In other words, it is not up to the salesman to judge whether a customer's intended purchase is a good idea for that customer.

It does not mean that the customer's every whim should be granted. Personally I'm happy to visit client premises on occasion. I would not be willing to meet at a client's premises on a daily basis. Even if they would pay a fee that would cover the time needed, the disruption to other client work, and subsequent overreliance on that single client, would not be worth it.

Everyone has the right to set their own limits in business relationships. Anyone that tells you otherwise is likely to want to manipulate you for their own benefit.

Thanks (9)
Replying to stepurhan:
By Ruddles
29th Mar 2024 07:25

stepurhan wrote:

Justin Bryant wrote:

A client without an accountant is still a client. However, an accountant without a client isn't an accountant.

Neither of those statements are true.


That was my initial reaction too. However if you consider the context what Justin us saying (I believe) is that a businessman without an accountant still has his business. But an accountant with no clients no longer has his business.
Thanks (8)
Replying to Ruddles:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
01st Apr 2024 21:16

Ruddles wrote:
That was my initial reaction too. However if you consider the context what Justin us saying (I believe) is that a businessman without an accountant still has his business. But an accountant with no clients no longer has his business.
You may well be right that was what he meant. If that is the case, it was poorly phrased.

I think the questions some businessmen post on here indicate that they are unlikely to have businesses for long if they don't get an accountant. At the same time, an accountant that sets boundaries may have a smaller client base, but they could still have clients. They might lose A client, but they also might not consider that a loss for reasons I have already covered.

That is even without covering whether having no clients but having all the knowledge stops you being an accountant anyway.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Richer Aims
02nd Apr 2024 09:43

Justin Bryant wrote:

The customer is always right basically (or at least they used to be in the pre-millennial days).

The full version from Mr Selfridge was "The customer is always right, in matters of taste," Which means that if they wanna buy an ugly hat, let them - they're still buying it. Doesn't mean they're always right though.

So whilst the client can absolutely ask for a face to face meeting, it is up to you whether to have that person as a client.

Also I'm not sure it is a 'pre-millennial' concept as the concept of relationship marketing and making sure you have the right kind of clients was a 90's concept sadly accountants as usual are about 30 years behind trend.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Pam Moreland
03rd Apr 2024 11:28

We offer a service. Personally I like to see business premises to get a feel for the set up and if they are actually making something, to find put about their product, probably less relevant for service businesses. I also visit some personal tax cases - mainly older or not mobile. They accept they might have to pay a bit more for my time but appreciate the effort and also it is far easier to locate the necessary paperwork when you are at their home. In fact you sometimes get the job done more quickly.
The reason those of us in small practices win over the big boys is that we can offer a tailored, personal service. They can't. So as long as a client is not taking the mick with unnecessary meetings we should provide what they want where they want it.

Thanks (1)
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By JustAnotherUser
28th Mar 2024 14:11

What an interesting topic, its a simple calculation

expectations set during onboard + time cost to accountant + value of customer = decision

No expectations set + 200 mile drive + sole trade paying £200 = No
No expectations set + round the corner + sole trade paying £200 = maybe I will as it a slow day and Ill go the pub after
No expectations set + 200 mile drive + client spending £20k a year = Yes
Set expectations on no visits + a hour out of my day + £200 = No
Set expectations on no visits + a hour out of my day + £20,000 in fess = Yes

Thanks (7)
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By D V Fields
28th Mar 2024 15:37

Surely like every client relationship.
Whoever wants the other the most gives way.

Thanks (4)
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
28th Mar 2024 18:03

I have never NOT gone to see the client at his/her premises
We're not Amazon/Ebay/Ocado et al, to post 'stuff 'to customers...

.....are we?

Thanks (9)
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By johnthegood
29th Mar 2024 05:52

A customer asking to meet is now a battleground over who holds the power?

Er, no, it's just a reasonable request for a meeting from a customer.

Thanks (23)
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By Matrix
29th Mar 2024 06:07

I met my client, among other things such as signing the accounts and realising he reaches state pension age this year, we discussed the matter he had mentioned.

It wasn’t something trivial, his bank wants to close his account. He needs me to sign something. He didn’t have what he needs me to sign yet. He will courier it to me next week. I am on leave so I told him off for not prioritising this (he has £600k in the bank) and advised he owed me chocolate.

If we weren’t in the habit of meeting face to face then we wouldn’t get on so well.

Thanks (7)
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By Rob Swan
29th Mar 2024 08:39

(Karen) Kennedy added: “We need to own the relationship. We are the experts. Not the other way round.” Does sound a little arrogant (sorry Karen), but this is apparently quite a common attitude among some in the accouting profession.

This is about business-Customer/Client relationships. That's all.

No business 'owns' its customers or the 'relationship'. Customers a free to go elsewhere and many do, with alarming frequency, when it comes to their accountant, which says a lot about the relatively poor relationships some accoutants have with their clients, relataive to other types of business and profession.
Repeat business is always the best type. Sometimes there are 'cowboy' customers and sometimes 'bad' customers (eg slow payers, time wasters, etc) are best 'dropped'.
You do not 'own' your customers or the 'relationship. That's a bad sign. A 'relationship' is - generally - for mutual benefit. If the customer is not 'right' for you, the best thniig to do is to HELP the customer find an accoutant who is right for them. The relationship will end on good terms and the (bad) client may even recommend you to 'good' clients in the future. That's just good business ;)

FYI I'm not an accountant but I did practice as a bookkeeper at one time. I've also had businesses in other sectors. I've NEVER had what I consider to be a 'good' accoutnant myself - they're quite hard to find - precisely because of the problem highlighted in this article, but I do know a few good accountants and clearly there are good ones around, as Aweb comments clearly show.

Thanks (7)
Replying to Rob Swan:
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By FactChecker
29th Mar 2024 18:19

100% ... she also mentioned 'power' quite frequently and who held it!

At the risk of being described (again) as old-fashioned, and invoking ire from those whom this somehow offends, there are - and always have been - two main forms of business type:
* The service providers
* The product suppliers

Those delineations even apply less obviously in other sectors, but never more so than now in the accounting sector.

The 2nd type (who most of the protagonists in these kind of articles seem to be) are focussed predominantly (often entirely) on maximising short-term profits - because that is their only measure of success and they want a quick exit via sale.
Nothing wrong in that so long as everyone involved knows those are the metrics - but the advertising isn't usually transparent (so client expectations 'mis-sold') and staff who thought they were at the start of a career can become expendable.
In the old parlance this was the philosophy of pile 'em high and chasing volume before quality (prevalent in the '80s and '90s until the crash brought clarity).
But the newer generations didn't experience that and are happy to believe that price/speed of acquisition outweighs anything to do with quality & retention - hence their willingness to suspend disbelief whenever AI offers a 'quick buck'.

The 1st type, however, who are not exclusively older ... understand 'service' is an activity whose relevance & quality is dependent on both parties to the relationship treating each other as fellow humans - which means behaving to others in the same way that you would wish them to behave towards you.
It tends also to provide a happier life for the deliverer - but that's just my opinion.

Over the past 30 years, I only had occasion twice to have forceful words with a client (always in private and never aggressively - it felt like 'reasoning' with a 5-year old). One cancelled their contract shortly afterwards (their prerogative) but the other went on to become one of our happiest clients (who over the next 25 years regularly introduced us to new clients who appreciated honesty as well as of course quality of service).

People can take their pick as to the road they wish to travel, but it is a little galling when (from either side of the divide) they suggest they're the only correct ones.

Thanks (11)
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By Paul Crowley
29th Mar 2024 19:41

Where to meet is almost irrelevant. Meeting people is part of the relationship. I would expect to recognise clients if I saw them in the street or the shop.

Thanks (7)
Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By davidpopely
02nd Apr 2024 10:47

I do, and I am recognised. We help people - that's what we do. If that means a meeting with a client, so be it. And in return for our (we think) reasonable attitude, we tend to get reasonable requests. If that doesn't happen we question whether this is the right 'fit' for the relationship

Thanks (4)
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By WongR
30th Mar 2024 01:14

I don't see the problem here... every client and accountant relationship will have set parameters according to each others understanding. If you don't want to meet a client face to face and the client insist on it with house visit, then maybe its time to say they will need to find an accountant whom has the time or inclination to meet them face to face.

Obviously sometimes meeting or not may depend on circumstance and situation, eg if they want a meeting for every small query they may have or if it is a once a year annual meeting to discuss accounts when it could be good to refresh relationships.

Either way going back to the question to who has the final say - you can always say "no" and the client always have the right to find another accountant. Whether the fees / relationship with this particular client may help you decide to whether are willing to assert your position.

Thanks (4)
DougScott
By Dougscott
30th Mar 2024 07:44

It's about simple respect. If you don't respect your client then best to part company.

In this particular case it appears there is a hint of arrogance on both sides so probably best to disengage.

As for visiting clients generally I usually enjoy such visits and when I was a junior auditor had the pleasure of visiting people who were extremely rich. One chap sent his chauffeur to pick me up from our offices on The Strand to take me down to his pile in Sutton to audit the accounts of his yacht that spent most of the time hanging about the Med with a crew of 34.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Dougscott:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
01st Apr 2024 09:57

Better than being collected from the bus stop in Stow and ferried up the hill to a farm in the back of a canvas top Landy with metal benches and a very rutted farm track- ouch. I popped down once a quarter to prepare the vat return, the plus point was I got made an excellent lunch by the client.

Maybe having spent the first two odd years travelling for audits visiting clients became my norm, but I always liked such away days, in that two odd years I visited kitchen manufacturers, a boat yard, a box maker, a distributor of grease (who knew there were so many types), endless Nissan car dealerships, a Ford dealership, a box maker, a pension managers offices (very swish, 19th century wood paneled boardrooms etc), arable farms, a dairy farm, a hill farm, sheet metal fabricators, heavy metal fabricators (oil industry) and a crisp/biscuit packaging manufacturer (there will be more but memory now does not recall)

Cannot understand accountants who would not desire to see all the plant/equipment, livestock etc and have a grand day out once in a while.

Thanks (8)
Replying to DJKL:
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By FactChecker
01st Apr 2024 15:57

Dodgy ground I know ... but I guess there may be an age dimension at play here?
There are many aspects of what I did until my mid-20s (I'm talking working hours, physical endurance and lack of sleep) that I couldn't even partially contemplate any more.

BUT those highly varied environments into which one was absorbed for a few days (or sometimes a week or two) were possibly the best education I received - slowly building a foundation and benchmarks that would serve me well over the next few decades - as well as usually being thoroughly enjoyable (change is fun).
To me this is the part of QBE that complements any qualifications (neither is adequate on its own) ... and it needs 'topping-up' from time to time.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Dougscott:
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By Rgab1947
02nd Apr 2024 10:14

Nice.

Should you not have inspected the yacht?

Thanks (1)
Routemaster image
By tom123
02nd Apr 2024 07:46

Indeed i've often felt that one of the disadvantages of following the route I did (CIMA) meant that you only tended to change jobs every few years at the start.

I think it is a shame there isn't a formal route of moving once a year for five years at the start of one's career, in order to gain a breadth quicker.

Thanks (1)
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By Self-Employed and Happy
02nd Apr 2024 09:42

I thought this was going to be a cutting insightful piece on arguing about the treatment of expenses etc...

Simple, if it is a client you value you go to the client, always a great opportunity to have a look around and sometimes even find things out that will help your understanding of the business.

If it is a client hundreds of miles away then should you have considered this when taking them on as part of the client risk assessment check, this accountant sounds entitled, you provide a service, clients pay for a service, if you don't like it then maybe reconsider your role or adjust their expectations, one suspects the accountant doesn't sell themselves as an "online only" business so you can't have it both ways.

Thanks (2)
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By Ian McTernan CTA
02nd Apr 2024 09:50

If one of my clients requests a face to face meeting, it's usually something important, or something they don't feel comfortable discussing where someone might overhear, or something that might take some time to run through and examine options.

We'll arrange to meet somewhere for lunch or even a round of golf. It's always turned out to be well worth my time. They are paying for the golf and lunch and anything else!

It's not about power, or what we agreed about calls/visits/etc. It's about being there for your client when they need you. Of course you can charge for it, if appropriate.

Thanks (8)
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By Susan Keane
02nd Apr 2024 09:51

I will state the time costs for my travel if clients want to meet at their premises quite far away.
That often makes them change their mind to an online or at our office meet. If it's that important to them, they will pay for travel time.

Thanks (1)
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By adambl
02nd Apr 2024 10:08

As some have said it depends on the stage the accountant's business is at i.e do you have plenty of clients and is potentially losing one not that important to you?

On a very similar issue I have a client who used to regularly emails or call me at the weekend and over bank holidays starting by saying "I know it's Saturday etc but I just wondered if you could answer a quick question....". At the outset of our relationship I answered once because they said it was something urgent/important which it turned out not to be at all. Since then I never answer unless it's during office hours and they are absolutely fine when I do talk to them. Sometimes setting boundaries can help.

Thanks (1)
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By johnjenkins
02nd Apr 2024 10:09

Would this now seem to be rude in Scotland?

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By Mr J Andrews
02nd Apr 2024 10:31

I would have thought the crux is the purpose of the meeting. E.G. business premises expansion - go and visit. I'm astonished as to the inference that attendance at a meeting is complied with - without knowing the agenda or subject matter beforehand. Knowing that the unknown subject matter is going to be ''......something not trivial......'' simply isn't good enough. The meeting could have been a complete and utter waste of time. As for ''....trotting along like lap dogs......'', Man Up { ? Woman Up }. This is a real sorry state of affairs.
Be flexible and insist that the client understands this must be reciprocal if the engagement is to continue. ''Requests'' and ''Preferences'' should have been established at the outset. At the end of the day , it's about client relationships.

Thanks (2)
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By Guilford Accounting
02nd Apr 2024 11:30

Where meetings are held and how often should be communicated and agreed when a proposal is submitted and clients' onboarded just as the scope of the work is agreed. This is all part of building the client relationship.

Firms should have a culture (the way we do things) and processes which prospects should be aware of and sign up to: at my firm that means being on Xero, weekly (or monthly) reconciliations either by the client or one of our bookeepers and a monthly online meeting.

Thanks (1)
Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
02nd Apr 2024 11:56

You may be missing out on good work by refusing meetings.

We generate a lot of extra advisory work from the non-agenda time spent in meetings.

Knowing your client better by an on-site visit helps this even further.

Obviously a meeting has to be commercially worthwhile, but you may be surprised how beneficial such meetings can be and so a wider view of commerciality may be appropriate.

Thanks (2)
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By peter morgan
02nd Apr 2024 23:37

It's your business. You choose. Don't want this outlier as a client? Fine, move on.

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