A recent article in the CPA Practice Advisor cites a study of 2,234 people, conducted by “audio branding specialist” (whatever that means exactly) PH Media Group, which concludes that less than 24% of Americans who contact their accountants via telephone are satisfied with the manner in which their calls are handled. The article goes on to infer that as a result, accounting firms score an F in the area of phone skills this post.The problem with any such study, however, is that there are numerous reasons why accountants instinctively do not like telephones and should be wary of using them.
Accountants are only afforded limited protections of confidentiality, unlike doctors and attorneys, yet clients seem bound and determined to push us to the wall to provide specific answers on the spot to complex questions, while they often provide excruciating detail which should not be disclosed over unsecure telephone networks. Whether a client is divulging information which may involve a criminal act or not is irrelevant. All too often, an accountant’s words are taken out of context, and once twisted can easily be made to sound as though the professional was advising some less-than-legal route through a particular situation.
Another case in point is the all-too-familiar “it’s the middle of March and income tax is on my mind, so I’ll ask my accountant what he thinks of this or that possible tax scenario for something I’m contemplating in six months.” Clients often fail to realize that mid-March is crunch time for accountants. We are literally working 12-18-hour days, preparing returns, meeting with clients, and researching issues which are pertinent to the imminent tax deadline. We honestly do not have an hour to spare kicking around “what if” scenarios over the phone.
Clients also do not want to talk to receptionists, assistants, or even other practitioners in the firm who may not be familiar with their specific files. There is an automatic bottleneck created, as the professional to whom they wish to speak may very well be excessively busy with other clients’ work, and the calling clients are often “put off” when referred to another member of the firm, no matter how expert that professional may be.
Email has provided much needed relief for the phone volume problem. It allows accountants to read an incoming question, formulate a response during downtime between appointments or other desk work, and to at least perform a modicum of research to answer the question intelligently (particularly important if the question involves a recent change to law or procedure). The key here is for practitioners to try to stay on top of the email flow, and this, like telephone volume, can prove difficult at various times during the year, and particularly during income tax season.
So, the next time you have the urge to lambast your accountant for not returning your phone call soon enough (or at all), for seeming to rush you off the phone, or for sounding less than specific in his vocal answers, please try to consider the foregoing and put things in perspective. He or she is really only trying to do the best job possible for you, the client. Try to meet him or her halfway.