Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Has common courtesy had its day?

I try not to make this a whingeing blog. For that reason, if I complain about our dear friends at HM Revenue & Customs, it is the system, bureaucracy and stilted thinking that annoys me, not the staff who have to carry out the wishes of their masters. I cannot recall in recent years ever having had a difficult conversation with a Revenue employee, other than in the rare context that the person was not prepared to strike the best deal I had hoped for concerning a client under enquiry. Certainly there have never been angry exchanges.

Having put the record straight about the dear Revenue, I have to say that most of the time I have good relations with all my clients, my subcontractors and my suppliers (well, except the bank which is still vicious with its charges; however, since we never speak, I am not sure it constitutes a relationship). With regard to clients, if I feel uncomfortable with our communications I try to get to the bottom of it, and if we are still not getting on, I ask them to use someone else. That has been a very rare situation in the seven year life of my business, partly because one develops a feeling about a prospect before signing him or her up, and sometimes it is better just to suggest they go elsewhere.

Well, this past month two incidents have got me going. The first involves a quite major (for me) client whom I gained through a referral. The company needed some remedial tax work in order to claim some extra tax back from HMRC. I re-did two pretty complex Corporation Tax Returns which had originally been submitted by a Big Four firm. I have found out that after the FD needed help with an accounting matter (which I did know about) and asked a local firm to look at it, they have now done all the tax work for this year for my client without even asking for professional clearance. I am pretty upset, and whilst I do not know whether the firm in question just did not understand that my firm was the registered agent in succession to the Big Four firm, whether they just went for it, or the client is to blame, one way or another between them they have contrived to keep me out of the loop and de facto I have lost the job. I had tried to keep up by repeatedly asking the client about progress towards providing the information I needed, but I have been the furthest from anyone's mind. I should have been told that my services were being summarily dispensed with. The now ex-client is to his credit very apologetic and evidently embarrassed, and is a nice guy, but I am still left high and dry.

A month or so back, I had a response to my one and only paper ad which appears monthly, and went to see the prospect, who told me that he felt remote from his current adviser who never spoke to him. We had a good meeting, he gave me copies of his last Tax Return and accounts to take away, and signed an authority for me to act on his behalf in dealing with HMRC. I asked him to let his current accountant / adviser know of his decision before I wrote to that firm for professional clearance. I heard nothing more for a number of weeks, but on telephoning today I am told that not only was he staying with the current firm, but they had already done his latest accounts and Tax Return. He was going to tell me, but hadn't got round to it. He hoped I didn't mind.

Now, I do accept that my firm is not the only one out there, but the elements that go with my work for clients include great service, regular communication (I do not ever charge for telephone calls and am always happy to speak to a client) and where possible at least one face-to-face meeting a year. I charge nothing extra for this because I think clients should always have the Waitrose quality rather than cheap and cheerful, or worse, cheap and surly.

I always hope and dare to expect that clients will treat me as I treat them, and if they have a confession to make that they are “seeing someone else”, I will get it early rather than stumbling upon them in fond embrace. Is that too much to ask?

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