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Questionnaire artLately there has been a lot of discussion in industry pubs and surveys about the growing discontent young people have with the accounting profession. Likewise, there seems to be similar fallout between business clients and their accountants.

How do you really know if your employees and customers are happy? And is happy enough? Does it take more relationship glue to keep everyone satisfied? And what is the just-right glue formula? Too much glue and the lack of turnover can be just as threatening to the health of a firm as high turnover.

Recently, I responded to one of those check box surveys in a popular publication. The survey was designed to gauge whether or not you are in a lasting relationship; noting these are as rare as unicorns. I ranked my marriage and found I could easily answer yes to twenty-seven of the thirty-one characteristics. It made me feel pretty good, but then I wondered if my husband would have the same ratio of yes to no? And of the four out of thirty-one that I couldn't answer with an absolute yes, how important are these and should they be weighted?

Some certainly seem more important than others. Out of the thirty-one characteristics, some were deal breakers, some just irritants. I then had to ask myself the bigger question about the totality of the relationship. Do the little irritants, although less weighted than the deal breakers, still add up to deal breakers over time? I found myself going down a Woody Allen-like cycle of uncertainty; the more I considered the questions, the more questions I had about the checklist.

The author of the relationship checklist acknowledged there was no scientific basis to her itemization, just observed behavior. Was that supposed to make me feel better? Again, I wondered; whose behavior was she observing? Hers? Her husband's? Her exes? Her married or divorced friends? Certainly, the more I considered this "fluff" article the more questions I had about the science behind an unscientific survey. I know the intent of this article was to entertain and illuminate, not drive strategy. But it made me wonder if the client and employee satisfaction surveys accounting firms deploy offer up any more valid insight?

Considering that business relationships are certainly more vulnerable to the "what have you done for me lately?" criterion than a marriage is, can you ever safely assume a client or employee is really satisfied based on survey responses? Ken Blanchard author of Raving Fans, says no. He says the only business model you can rely on is that 95 percent of your customers and team are waiting for something better to come along. The good news for the accounting profession is that the "cost of switching" results in lower turnover. The bad news is that this low turnover rate is inaccurately interpreted as a sign of higher customer and employee satisfaction.

I believe the only way you can really gauge if the relationship is working must be based, not on satisfaction survey questions, but on these measurable outcomes:

For Clients:
1) Is the client routinely referring other quality clients to the firm?
2) Is the client buying more expanded services from the firm?

For Team Members:
1) Is the employee routinely referring other quality team members to the firm?
2) Is the employee advancing professionally within the firm?
This author acknowledges this is an unscientific approach and these outcomes are based on observed behavior. Even so, they might offer up a more realistic measurement as to what real relationship satisfaction looks like than any amount of questions in a satisfaction survey could.

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to: http://www.mentorplus.com/.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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