As accountants spend another tax return season shepherding clients, the role of a client manager could be the gatekeeper that keeps firms moving while everyone else has their heads down working.
For some, the role of a client manager has no place in a smaller practice. This argument holds ground when, as AccountingWEB member Kent Accountant said, the role of an accountant is to “provide extra advice when it’s needed (often unprompted) and charge reasonable fees”.
If you do this, he added, clients will stick with you and recommend you. After all, the last thing a small practice or a sole practitioner wants to do is call clients to see how they feel.
Arguing a similar point Ken Howard said the no gimmicks approach does the job, nothing else is required. "Clients don't want to be your best friend, they want a competent professional."
But what if this “touchy feely” client manager trend could lessen the one time in an accountant’s diary that causes the biggest bother: self assessment season.
Could a client manager vanquish the annual ritual of client chasing, or at least, keep the practice moving during this stressful period?
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Three different sized firms explain how a client manager will help them cope with the January peak season.
Solve the annual client chasing?
At Practice Excellence Award winners Crunch, the client manager’s primary responsibility is, first and foremost, as the first port of call for the clients. While the accountants file the returns correctly, the client manager ensures the clients are aware of their SA requirements.
“This time of year can be daunting for many of our clients so our client managers are there to help put their minds to rest, by guiding them through the process and ensuring our accountants have everything they need to produce the self assessments in good time,” said Andrew Tyrrell, client experience manager at Crunch.
From mid-July Crunch’s client managers start increasing the focus on self assessments when contacting clients. But from September the client managers will directly contact clients about the impending deadlines and find out if they’ll be completing their own self assessment or if they want Crunch to do it.
For Practice Excellence Award winner Sharon Pocock, the client champion acts as a “gatekeeper” between the team and the clients. Kinder Pocock is already a “man down” going into the busy period so the team are already finding that it is taking longer than usual to get back to people.
That’s what Pocock envisages her client champion doing when the rest of the team are getting the tax returns done. “Where one of us can't answer client straight away, they can make sure the client is looked after and make sure the message gets through or that the query is dealt with,” Pocock said.
Being the buffer between the client and the accountant, the client champion can be the calm and friendly face of the firm while, as Pocock said, the rest of the team is “frantic behind the scenes”.
The client champion can shield the accountants from calls or relieve them from telling the client that they can't speak to them at that moment. “It's all about the clients’ perception,” Pocock explained. “And how well they are being looked after and how well they are being communicated with.”
A financial mind
It can be helpful in a role like this and especially at this time of year for the client manager/champion to have a financial mind. As well as responding to emails and phonecalls, the role of a client manager at Crunch encompasses a working knowledge of running a business to showing new clients how to use the firm’s software.
“Behind the scenes the client managers are keeping track of their client’s accounts, ensuring deadlines are met, managing clients’ correspondence with HMRC," Tyrrell said.
Pocock echoed the importance for her client champion to have a financial mind. That's why she included an extra step in the interview process to test the candidate’s attention to detail.
What helped Pocock's client champion secure the position was her AAT level 4 qualification. "She's used to dealing with spreadsheets, data and quoting and she's got the right financial mind. She'll be able to ask for the right information,” Pocock said.
Keep the firm moving
January may be dedicated to tax returns but that doesn’t mean the firm shuts down completely. Self assessment season is not just a busy time for client work but also for new business. With six out of the 15 staff at Cornish-based firm The Peloton (pictured above) being non-accountants, the client service team makes sure during this busy period to do anything that is “going to save the accountants some time”.
"However busy we are we always want to welcome our clients and potential new clients and make sure they know we’ve got time for them,” said Anna Carthew, The Peloton’s marketing manager.
“For example our non-accounting staff will manage new business enquiries and take initial details from people who call up asking for a quote and with the guidance of our senior accountants help put quotes together for potential clients.”
The accountants will chase clients because of their already intimate knowledge of a specific client’s business and finance, leaving the client service team to contacts clients in order to set up or rearrange meetings.
Each morning the firm holds a 15 minute team meeting where burning issues are rated from one to ten. Anything over seven means the team member needs help, Carthew explained. “We monitor this closely to make sure no one is feeling too stressed and work can be redistributed where necessary.”
In essence, Carthew explained, the role of the client manager at this time of year is to “make sure we take as much as we can off the plates of the accountants”.
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About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.