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Tax & AccountingFebruary 17, 2020

What is the Cost of Asking, “What’s Up?"

How much does it cost you to ask, “What’s up” with the status on your engagements? Have you ever considered what happens when you ask the question; the effects on your bottom line, on client satisfaction, on employee engagement and job satisfaction? Can you really afford to ask it?

As a partner, you’ve earned the right to know, whether it’s because the client called and inquired, you’re planning staff assignments, or because you just want to know. Ideally, that information would be at your fingertips and you wouldn’t even have to ask “What’s up,” but there’s no single source of truth in your firm; no single document that gives you clear, 360° visibility. So you pick up the phone, send an email, or pop down to the cube farm and ask your managers, “What’s up?”

Your managers are smart. You know this because you trained them, and because you trained them, they’re tracking about 80% of what you want to know. To discover the other 20%, they have to stop their work and send out emails to the senior staff on each of the 5-6 engagements they are managing.

Each senior stops their work, reads the email, checks their spreadsheets or notes about the engagement, possibly touches base with junior staff, and then responds to the manager, in varying degrees of detail and quality.

Once again your manager stops what they are working on, assembles the information, tracks down additional detail as necessary, and then sends you an email summarizing the status on each of the engagements they are managing for you.

Since none of this happened in a vacuum, it’s probably end of day, or longer, before you get that status update. At this point, is it still accurate, and what was the cost to the firm? If each of your managers and senior auditors spent 30 minutes (yes, I’m being optimistic) gathering information, a total of 15 labor-hours went into providing you with a status update.

Your staff could have spent that time on projects that produced billable hours, or in a client-facing capacity that, while not producing revenue, increased client satisfaction.

Even if your staff spent one hour learning more about the client’s pain points and business practices, they’re increasing firm stickiness and learning ways that the firm may better serve the client. That one hour of interaction may lead to the firm being hired for additional services.

What about you? What if, because you already had the answer to your question, you picked up the phone and made a call, sent an email, or went out to a lunch, and because of that call, email, or lunch, you closed a new client? That new client is worth far more than a billable hour, even at partner rates.

Looking internally, what about the impact on job satisfaction and employee engagement? While these items may not directly impact the bottom line, in today’s job market, where accountants and auditors have a 1.4% unemployment rate and CPA firms are experiencing turnover rates of 20% or more, can you afford to ignore them? If you could give back a little time each day, reduce manual labor, and bring a small slice of sanity back to your staff, would it reduce turnover?

At the end of the day, the unit of measure doesn’t matter. Whether you look at salary cost, lost business, billable rate, job satisfaction, client satisfaction, or any metric that matters to your firm, the question is still the same. What does it cost you to ask the question, “What’s Up?”

What would you do to reduce that cost?

Glen Keenan, CPA
Author at Tax & Accounting

As the Vice President of Firm Management at Wolters Kluwer, Glen has a passion for the paperless workpaper environment, internal controls, and risk assessment. Having spent many years with Deloitte, Glen has extensive public accounting experience and is a frequent speaker on technology and practice management issues. He has presented at regional and national events and is a regular contributor and resource for industry journals and periodicals.

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