By: Chris Liebtag, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt | February 2013
Would you be willing to give your clients a tour of your tax department in mid-March or April? Probably not. While you are proud of your firm, there are probably times, like your peak busy season, when you wished things operated better. Yet, there are restaurants that that open up their inner workings every night.
My brother runs a successful restaurant on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I recently visited with him while his staff was making preparations for their five year anniversary bash. The restaurant has an open kitchen where customers can look in and watch all of the organized chaos that occurs to turn orders into reality. Considering the fast paced, high stress environment, I asked him why they wanted the kitchen open for everyone to see and hear what's happening when there is a risk of tempers flaring and mistakes being made. His response surprised me. He credits the open design as being a key factor in their success.
He explained that they want their customers to see what they are doing because they are proud of their kitchen and its "crew" as he called them. He believes it lets his customers connect with the restaurant in a way they can't other places and it's vital to the overall experience. And since 70 percent of his business comes from repeat customers, it must work.
The focus of any improvement initiative inside your firm should be the impact on the client experience. CPA firms easily achieve a 95 percent or higher repeat customer rate, and it's rarely due to the ambiance. However, the overall experience is a factor. Are you delivering an experience that allows your client to connect with you and your firm in a way they can't elsewhere?
When you incorporate Lean Six Sigma principles, you understand that each year you need to improve over the last. Making small changes that save several minutes on a return or prevent an extra call to the client for information can make a big difference. Why? Because it allows you to enhance the client experience. At the same time, you'll experience some intentional by-products – profitability and increased realization.
There are actually more similarities than you think between accounting firms and restaurants. Would you be upset if your warm dish was delivered to your table cold? Of course. It either took too long to be finished after it was cooked or it sat too long waiting to be delivered. The longer your work sits, the colder it gets, too. And what's worse, you will inevitably have more WIP in it and it will take longer to bill.
When you have returns waiting to be reviewed, you need to make sure your process creates the capacity for them to be reviewed right away. If there are returns waiting to be signed, what are you waiting for? Sign them. That's a hot meal waiting to be delivered to your client. And what could be more important than accelerating cash flow and satisfying the next client?
The principles and methods of Lean Six Sigma can produce for you the same benefits the open kitchen concept provides my brother's restaurant. Running a more efficient and effective firm will relieve some of the tension and deadline-driven stress that occurs this time of year. It will allow you to spend more time with your clients and less time fixing mistakes on their returns. It will allow you to create a client experience that has them returning year after year as well as recommending you to their friends.
Lean can help you provide an experience your clients and potential clients can't get anywhere else.