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Timesinks

"They love me, they really love me" - how to make your clients love you

Would you like to:

  1. go to work and meet people who smile at you and are genuinely pleased to see you, or
  2. show up at work and find people ducking and hiding when they hear you approach?

Unless you suffer from some odd psychological condition, you'll probably pick #1.

Now if you're an auditor, ask yourself - which of those scenarios describes how people treat you?

Anonymous Accountant abandoned writing over a year ago, yet there's an incredibly long discussion on how much "audit sucks" and how miserable people feel in the audit profession. Sounds like there's far too many offices where:

  • Staff receive too little guidance;
  • Petty office politics rule the day;
  • Every day feels like agony;
  • Accounting students run away from your company before even applying; and
  • People are either leaving as soon as they can, or have already left.

Reading sites like that is eye-opening. Although I hear horror stories from some of my friends, I can't personally vouch for living all those scenarios, as I've found myself a happy little niche in the audit world where a group of intelligent friendly people do good work and leave people happy.

Which is to say, my colleagues and I experience "scenario 1" most of the time.

One of the respondents to the comments summarized things quite nicely, though:

Remember, client personnel are only used to dealing with PITA, unhappy auditors. It takes a certain personality to be happy, cheerful and pleasant, while dealing with 1) something as idiotic as auditing 2) getting information from and giving out extra, unpaid work to already-over-worked-client-staff. (I’ve already had a client manager who wanted to offer me a job; his entire staff treat me like I’m one of them, by inviting me to lunch, and generally chewing the fat/joking around about movies/books/food/family, and I’ve only been there 2 weeks) I hope this helps you guys a little bit. But I hear you about the disillusionment and disappointment.

I find those words very wise. Those are words written by someone who understands how audits can go Horribly Wrong, but who also knows how to do things properly - in a decent, humane way.

Not everyone believes you can pull this off. I once heard a visiting manager say "you can't please everyone all the time." This was one of the few depressing ideas I ever confronted in a workplace. Well, yes, some people are curmudgeons who seem to take pleasure in making your life tough, but aside from those outliers, most people are genuinely helpful, proud of the work they do, and willing to help you get your audit work done so they can back to their day job.

Adopting a positive attitude, you can get a lot done. Thinking that you're doomed to deal with unhappy people so you might as well be a jerk to them is the message I read from the above idea, and I've fiercely resisted it all along. I feel like I'm repeating myself - I may have very well written about this before - maybe I've just said it before.

Aside from not stressing out over life, are there any other ways to make an audit experience smoother? Certainly.

And there's only one idea worth sharing: prepare.

There are two ways to prepare.

First, figure out what you're going to do before you talk to your client. Yes, you can have a "planning event" in your office, but just sitting there while the partner and manager talk won't prepare you.

Make your own list of things you need to do your job. Patient charts, derrick inventory, list of credit memos.

When I have to rush out to a client without studying everything there is to know about what I'm about to do, I know things are going to be difficult. People are busy, and they don't want to have to explain basic concepts to you.

So the second way to prepare is to make sure that you understand the things you're asking for in the first place.

If you're dealing with a health care company, learn basic health care concepts. If you don't know what a patient chart is, what exactly do you think a hospital uses to track patient records? If you don't know what an HMO is, google it fast.

Energy companies? Make sure you know the difference between a derrick and a rig.

Banks or any finance department for that matter? Oh sweet mother, don't mix up credits memos and debits cards.

If you don't do these things, the client will laugh at you. Later, when you leave, they will. Legends will be formed if you're really unprepared.

Where will you find all this wonderful information? Last year's files! Examine them, skim through the esoteric parts at first, and get a handle on what's going on. Your colleagues should also know - ask them!

Supplement any gaps - perhaps there is no prior year file because it's a new client and nobody you're working with knows a thing - scary thought! - with some web searches so you understand the basics about the business you're auditing.

There's a cultural barrier that prevents a lot of people from asking for help.

Rip that barrier down like the Berlin wall, now.

Above: famous last words: "It's not the Berlin wall, but it'll do."

"Asking for help" takes many forms, and includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Asking your manager or senior to explain the work you're supposed to perform. Even if they already told you how to do it, ask again if the explanation was unclear.
  2. Asking those same people if you find something unexpected. Doing this sooner rather than later is universally acknowledged as a Good Thing
  3. Asking your client to clarify something that was unclear. They may given you the wrong information, or maybe the process changed since last year, so maybe now Bob the VP signs cheques, not Ed from accounting. These things happen.
  4. Telling your manager that you don't have enough time to get the job done without killing yourself.

I myself have even been asked, "do you have enough time to do this job?"

I've confidently said yes. I've laughed hysterically - and then said no.

Asking for more help is important. If you're booked to work 40 or 50 hours, and it looks like it'll take 60 hours of work, make it known that either your schedule is wrong, or you'll need help.

The former scenario's a bit tricky - in 'crunch' situations you may indeed have to pull some long days.

But you can only work as many hours as your health allows.

I'll gladly put in a 60 hour week if I have to finish a tight deadline. I did it in university, and I'll do it for my job when it's needed.

But if you expect me to operate that way for more than a week or two in any given season or year, you're insane.

People burn out. And as much as it's the fault of Big Companies and Big Bosses for working people too hard, you have to be able to say, "um, no, this doesn't work", otherwise you're also victimizing yourself more than just a little bit.

And if you're burning out your client won't love you as much, because you'll become bitter and angry, and that's a Bad Thing.

So relax, follow the above advice, be nice to others, expect the same, and if you don't get a positive reaction, keep at it until things improve.

Posted: Mar 01 2008, 01:05 AM by Krupo | with 9 comment(s)
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Comments

j_cee said:

Thanks for the advice krupo.  This will be very helpful indeed.

I met one of my friends last week who's currently doing co-op with BDO.  I asked her to meet me because I was really interested to hear her first impression/experience in the auditing world.  She tells me, "these people are working machines!  They come for work at 7 and leave at 9.  They work during their lunch break.  And what shocks me even more is that they look happy doing it! Mountains and mountains of files. and then I thought, 'OMG, this is gonna be my life in the future?'"

My reaction? well, I tried to be surprised...I pretended.  But my thoughts are really, "I know this already...tell me something new!"

I gotta say, you and the blogger at 'life of an auditor' had educated me well enough and had given me an extensive preview of what my life is gonna be in two months.  Your posts are my research and preparation! Keep these posts coming.  They are really helpful!

# March 1, 2008 2:23 AM

Krupo said:

Glad to hear you find it helpful :)

If there's one thing that'll help you is to know what you're getting into. I have friends who got into the profession who weren't aware of the fact that overtime is unpaid, what the turnover is like, and all the other sorts of details that people later rail on and on about.

I was lucky enough to have some professors who warned us about the same things I'm writing about, calling these your "slave" days and the what the tradeoffs would be.

It doesn't make it any easier, but it does give you some context and perspective.

I just read an internal discussion where people discussed how many hours they work around the world. The BDO hours you describe above are very common during busy season. Change it to 8 to 7 for slower times and you'll get common hours for the rest of the year. 8:30 to 5:30 if you work somewhere where you have enough staff and less deadlines.

This week marked my last week of busy season, thank goodness, so I'm transitioning to the latter category until the fall or so.

Some of the work is in fact enjoyable - I'm a stickler for making sure I have lunch every day, but if I'm so close to a deadline I can feel it, I'll sometimes wait until later in the afternoon before running out to get something to eat because I'm on a roll.

If you go with a larger firm - and their IT practice - one big difference in the working environment will be way more digitized documents and less mountains of paper files.

I despise paper file and politely ask that clients give me everything possible in digital format. I've lugged audit bags around. Sometimes it's inevitable. Usually it's not. For IT auditors, anyway :)

# March 1, 2008 3:19 PM

Fluffy Cow said:

Don't worry, there's always Railroad Tycoon for your off time.  ; )

# March 2, 2008 9:19 AM

Krupo said:

I have many things to occupy me in my off time, that's definitely not a problem. :)

# March 2, 2008 3:53 PM

Fluffy Cow said:

Underwater basket weaving???

# March 2, 2008 4:27 PM

Krupo said:

Close, but better:

http://www.audio-surf.com/

# March 2, 2008 5:37 PM

Why “Ask the Client” may be one of the worst things an auditor can hear « The Anonymous Accountant said:

Pingback from  Why “Ask the Client” may be one of the worst things an auditor can hear « The Anonymous Accountant

# March 3, 2008 7:40 PM

indieguild.com » Blog Archive » The death of an auditor said:

Pingback from  indieguild.com  » Blog Archive   » The death of an auditor

# April 3, 2008 12:34 PM

csteph said:

Agree with the notes on plaining.  The team has to be sharp and organized.  Not so sure about the entire aspect of befriending.  If things are on the up and up, personality shouldn't matter much.  If things are crap, then something is wrong.

That can be the death of an auditor.

indieguild.com/.../index.php

A smidge of great personality will always go a long way though, great post!

# April 3, 2008 12:39 PM