I am constantly surprised at the number of people (a lot of them being my fellow professionals) who do not ask enough questions to provide effective solutions to their clients.
I ask so many questions. I’m probably quite annoying – in fact my kids tell me I am very annoying. But without effective questioning you don’t get to the heart of the matter. Things just hang. Problems can be identified, but solutions are not proposed. And clients get frustrated with this approach. I don’t blame them – I would.
Without getting too technical I saw a set of accounts this week which had been subject to an audit. The audit opinion had been qualified by the company’s auditors. This, in itself, is unusual – this was qualified on four separate counts which is almost unheard of. After questioning the director for about three quarters of an hour, we discovered that he could provide information in advance of the audit that would satisfy all of those things. As the nature of the company’s business involved substantial bank borrowings, the last thing the company needs is a qualified audit report which will most certainly spook the bank. Oh, and the audit will be cheaper this year as less angst needs to be expended by the auditors on the actual wording of the audit report!!
I looked as another set of accounts for a new client a couple of weeks ago where the owner directors were purely remunerated by salary. Without them having to sell one other thing, or incur one extra cost, they are now getting an extra £5,700 a year each after-tax in their hands. Suddenly, their view of the business is different, as now they can afford to enjoy more of what they work for.
These are just two examples of me not doing anything particularly clever. I’ve just asked why are you doing that, or why can’t you do this? I’m amazed that in times of recession simple effective well tried advice is still not being given, because the professionals are too obsessed by the technicalities. It’s a simple case of not seeing the wood for the trees.
Here’s another one. Another audit, which means that the auditor has to send a management letter to the company outlining issues that the auditor has discovered. The auditor correctly identified that there was a major issue with subcontractors which if there had been a PAYE investigation might have led to a very substantial bill for the company. I’m talking £250,000 or so. They put this in the management letter. With the management letter they sent their bill, which was double what the company was expecting. They did not tell the company how to rectify this problem. I did!
What did they do wrong? Well, apart from not warning the company about the increased fee, they forgot that they were not just doing an audit. They got to the end of the audit, filled in all their questionnaires and checklists, and stopped. They did all their internal processes, which are important to them, but no one else, bluntly, gives damn about them.
These are all relatively recent – I can find lots more. It’s exasperating.
I have a simple rule for my professional colleagues that work with me. Anybody in the office can come to me with a problem. The door is always open. But – they must come with their proposed solution as well. It’s what I want, and I know full well it is what my clients expect – solutions Why have so few people failed to work this out?
And for your businesses, do your internal processes stop short of what your customers need and expect? Should you be looking at ways of asking better questions, before your competitors do?
I’ll happily look at them with you if you like, to get you to be as annoying as me!