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Practice Excellence: Getting customer care right

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27th Nov 2012
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Cumbrian accountancy practice Lamont Pridmore walked away with the best medium-sized firm gong at the Practice Excellence Awards earlier this year. Managing partner Graham Lamont caught up with AccountingWEB to explain how customer satisfaction has been key to his firm's success.

Lamont said the firm was doing at least two or three unique things, in particular, providing a comprehensive customer care programme.

The plan consists of four meetings or telephone calls, depending on the size of the client, each year.

The meetings include:

  • Pre-Financial Year End (FYE), normally three months before the FYE: This includes profitability, tax planning opportunities and how to reduce tax payments for that financial year, including capital expenditure, pension planning, revenue expenditure
  • Formal FYE meeting, about the results and the range of things to do: The firm provides a detailed checklist: “The one thing we ask staff, managers and partners to do is think that this particular client is your best friend and what would you genuinely do as the next thing to benefit their business or financial situation?”
  • Meeting half way through the financial year: The practice undertakes a benchmarking report, where their company is benchmarked against their sector. The firm uses a product called Profit Sense to do that: “We look at the accounting, press a few buttons and say look at gross margins, wages to sales, net profit to sales, the debtor and creditor days, swap days, and how that compares with companies in your sector.”
  • Pre-5 April meeting: A discussion on maximising ISA investments, capital gains tax, IHT, gifts. “Are you using up your annual allowances and being most effective in your personal tax situation?”

The firm tries to solve client problems, queries, telephone calls and emails within the day, but if they can’t they’ll say to the client: “This is an issue we can't solve in the next 24 hours, but we're on the case and we'll try and get back to you in the next X number of days” to give them an indication of what the problems are.

“We never let the sun go down on a client problem,” Lamont said “That's the sort of customer care we offer.”

Aligned to that, every year the firm sends clients a bill where they’ve calculate the value added.

The practice keeps an ongoing spreadsheet for each client and as the year goes on and as more things are done for the client, the spreadsheet gets populated with the value of that advice.

“Whether that's increasing sales, profits, saving tax, restructuring the business, paying dividends instead of salary, we then quantify that for all clients, and at the end of the year we tot up the bills and the added value.”

On average this currently stands at 3.18 times the fee, so the firm can say to the client, “as part of its customer care programme we’ve quantified the value of the services for the year in saving tax and improving profits.”

With clients where the value is not high enough, a couple of members of staff will get the file out and brainstorm the situation to discover how they can give better value. “There's an inward striving of adding value to the client,” Lamont said.

He added that they’ve developed a range of added-value services, where 15% of their business is an asset and wealth management function, where they make sure the client gets the best products, services and solutions.

“Lamont Pridmore has a low fee structure in relation to the benefits, so people aren't paying huge commissions, and therefore the performance of the funds are proportionately higher. That's something we've been doing for some years.”

Lamont explained that this service has trebled in value over the last four years and in the last six months it's been growing at 50%.

The firm has also developed an outsourced finance director service where its goes out monthly to produce management information, advice on profit improvement, and a benchmark service.

“It's the sort of service you'd expect from a much larger company but you get that for a much lower amount,” Lamont said. “We do online accounting requirements and improve profitability, and what we're finding is in working with clients who improve profitability, it takes the pressure off the fee, because if they're profitable, and we're perceived to be making a difference to their underlying financial performance. They feel good about us and the fee's not a consideration.”

In addition the firm provides a profit improvement service and has developed a pro-active tax planning service that looks at restructuring companies and minimising their tax bill.

Lamont outlined what the firm has found over the years:

“What we called ‘type one’ compliance services are growing at 1%, so that’s concentrating on preparing accounts, filing tax returns and filing accounts at Companies House.

“The added-value stuff: the tax planning, asset and wealth management, the profit improvement, and the outsourced finance director services, are growing at between 25 and 30%.”

He added that it was this that has been really growing and taking the business forward.

The other successful move was the appointment of a full time HR director four years ago, which has resulted in individual training plans for everybody. “Everybody gets personally coached every 12 weeks by the HR director, we go on at least five day course per year, and get out of the office for five away days each year to improve profitability and efficiency levels.”

“We're looking at getting close to 96% efficient within our time and we introduced a 15% performance-rated bonus scheme to share that gain with the staff,” in addition to paying people in accordance with an independent staff salary survey.

In terms of marketing, the practice uses a professional marketing company to attract “more of the right type of clients”. In addition the firm has a business development manager and marketing co-ordinator who sends out professional marketing material.

Lamont added: “In the last 12 months we generated 176 new clients worth £180,000. That's why we've grown at 71% over a three year period.

“It's this virtuous circle of developing brand awareness, marketing it to the clients we want to work for, and when they come and see us, they usually change accountant.”

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By janmc71
27th Nov 2012 18:51

Congratulations and Well Done
A very inspiring article and much deserved winner!

If we can take away and implement just a couple of your points and achieve just a small % of your growth I will be a very happy accountant!

All the best!

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