Nurture Your Back Office Accountants To Be Front Office Champions
It will not be news to most practice managers that accountants need to be customer-facing specialists, who can satisfy clients, generate trust and loyalty and win new business. But, knowing is not the same as doing, so how does a finance manager go about developing and nurturing its back office talent – be that in-house or practice – into a front office business partner? Well, we have provided several tips on how to do this below.
The grooming process should start during the new employee induction period. As part of this induction, employees should be immediately introduced to the value chain of the business, showing how all the tasks contribute to the service offering and contribute to revenue generation. This will help them the new starter to see how they fit into the value-chain, subtly educating them as to why they need to be customer centred.
Even though they may be starting off in a back office role, their job description should be written so that each back office task references the actual specific customer service that they are supporting, and if practical, it should reference client names. This will enable them to see everything they do in the context of a commercial service to a client. In truth, back-office staff should never work in a vacuum and should always be aware of the client that they are performing the task for, no matter how small.
Next, embed them into the monthly business/billing cycles. Try and involve back office talent in the monthly billing and collections processes so they begin to understand the importance of revenue and cash. They should not be allowed to take anything for granted and they should be acutely aware of how the tasks that they perform day in and day out contribute to the financial well-being of the company. Once again, this is educating the back-office team about the client -facing processes.
As much as possible, you should begin to expose your back-office staff to clients. Back-office staff should on occasion accompany senior staff to client meetings and be expected to contribute for a set portion of the meeting. This should be seen as developmental and should be ongoing. This is one of the best ways to educate staff as to the importance of pleasing clients.
Ideally, back office staff should receive regular communications about the health and performance of the business on a monthly basis. This will ensure your back-office are beginning to develop the urgency and commercial awareness that will be required of them if they are to develop into front-office champions. This communication should also be carried out on annual basis and back-office staff should understand the company’s performance over the 12 months, and this will continue to develop your back-office staff’s understanding of the commercial process.
Ideally back office staff should be on an annual bonus which is linked to financial profitability, and customer-satisfaction as this will be the best way to encourage your back-office staff to engage in revenue generating customer focused behaviour. This bonus should form between 10 and 20% of their pay if it is to make an impact. This does not mean having to pay them much more than the standard, it just means that you make a proportion of their base pay, variable and based on performance.
Finally, this task of developing your back office talent into front office champions will be made much easier if you hire staff with both the potential and willingness to develop into front office staff. It is recommended that your accountant person specifications are updated to reflect customer facing qualities of communication, influencing, negotiation, consultative sales and marketing, and relationship management. You should then screen for these qualities during your selection process. This will mean your back office team will be prime candidates to be developed into customer-facing professionals.