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What your accountant can learn from your bartender

Does anyone make it a business priority to deliver bad service? Despite places you may regularly experience less than stellar service, I think it’s safe to say no one makes it a goal.

Have you ever been out for an evening with great food but the service was poor? What about a time when dinner was just ok but the experience was incredible? For me, the former situation can easily jeopardize an evening but the latter can often still end up being a great time. When I think about some of the most memorable meals I’ve had, I remember the staff and environment as much as or more than the food itself. One time it was a bit of sass from the waitress adding playfulness to the dinner. Another time a bartender slid me some samples on the house after chatting for a bit about the qualities of different liquors on their shelf.

I once heard a chef say, “cooking good food is the easy part of running a restaurant.” This was in no way meant to minimize the importance of cooking but to speak of all the things it takes to make an establishment run well and delight its clients. One of the intangibles to keep in mind comes from restaurateur Danny Meyer who says, “Guests may think they're dining out to feel nourished, but I've always believed that an even more primary need of diners is to be nurtured.” With all the different restaurants in any given city, the real challenge lies not just in managing a great operation but in making sure you are nurturing your clientele in a way that matches with the experience you intend.

If the above resonates with you but you are outside the restaurant industry I would challenge you consider what it might mean to “nurture” your own clients. What do I mean? There are roughly 42,000 accounting firms in the US today. For a minute, pretend it’s 100 years ago and the number of firms in the country is the same but the internet does not exist. If you were in Boise looking for a tax expert in Louisiana based on an opportunity you were considering, finding a firm there would have required a lot of work. Today, it takes a couple keystrokes and you’d have a list to start from or you could even solicit your online network for a recommendation.

Like running a restaurant, managing an accounting firm has its challenges. Tax and business laws change constantly, staff needs to be managed and clients to satisfied. While core obligations like these and others remain, with access to information improving and technology moving to automate a growing number of tasks the question is, "what are you doing to create a remarkable and differentiated experience for your clients?” What makes you trusted, memorable and valuable?

Competitors are likely writing blog posts and white papers to assert knowledge and have country club memberships and ballgame tickets for entertainment. What in your arsenal helps you deepen the trust in your relationship? What experience are they having that keeps them calling you?

If you’re ever wanting to take a peek down this wormhole, it’s best to take an in-depth look at the people you serve or seek to serve. The more dialed in you can get with their needs as opposed to a general catch-all, the more likely you are to find something valuable. To frame this up in terms of a do and don’t do, the question is, “have you ever seen someone with a Bank of America bumper sticker on their car?” You have not. Because they provide a very generalized service to most people whereas USAA, which focuses itself on the armed services and their families has a loyal following.

What would make your clients feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves? Can something be learned from the early days of Zappos publicizing its customer service hotline as a we'll help with anything hotline? What are the little things that might move you closer to being your client’s first phone call? What would make them feel even more understood and taken care of by you?

If you want to see one company’s attempt to strengthen its client experience, check out Airbnb’s 11 star experience exercise.

Go Forth Boldly

p.s. accounting is just an example. This applies across many specialties and industries.

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