- Thursday, Dec. 6 — “Perhaps you can give me a ring today when you have a few minutes?”
- Wednesday, Dec. 12 — “Just checking in on this. Please let me know if everything is on track.”
- Friday, Dec. 14 — “Please advise. I’m happy, and perhaps eager, to talk this through on the phone.”
Despite sending the above emails to my accountant, as I wrote the first draft of this column on the morning of Monday, Dec. 17, my phone had yet to ring. That meant not only did I spend much of the weekend stressing about the issue on which I was seeking clarity, but starting Friday night, I began the stressful process of deciding if it was time to find a new accountant. Not surprisingly, I determined it was.
What put me over the edge? The stress, for it should not have been mine. We hire service professionals — such as accountants, lawyers, and other vendors — because they have the expertise we need. But when those experts are unresponsive, we are left with the stress we had hired them to offload, and that is tantamount to receiving no service at all.
As a real estate agent, my father has dealt with dozens of lawyers, and when you ask him what separates the good from the bad, it has little to do with the subtleties of negotiating contracts, it comes down to one thing — “can I get them on the phone.” Simple. When an answer or response is needed to move the process along, can it be obtained? Can the ball be hit back across the court so the game continues apace? If not, all parties to the transaction must sit and wait. And sitting and waiting is not the position we hire our service providers to put us in. We have our own businesses and departments to run.
And when it’s clear the differences are irreconcilable, a clean breakup is best, for the paths we walk are long and often intertwined, and our reputations as easily sullied by the bitter as burnished by the satisfied. So be honest, be concise, settle up and move on. This is a lesson to both the breaker and breakee. Truly, as Ed Ricks, CIO at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, said in our soon-to-be-published interview, “It’s not personal, it’s really not.”
And when it’s time to take a new betrothed, take your time and don’t commit on the rebound. Think about all those things that kept the last relationship from working and be sure they don’t affect this one. For my part, I’m employing a systematic process of interviewing a handful of folks, telling them about my business and asking them if we’re a good fit. Of course, most will say yes, but how they say it, how they explain it will be what’s telling.
In short, I’m looking for a meeting of the minds about what the relationship between a business owner and accountant should be. For my part, I see it as a long-term partnership; as one of those critical pillars upon which a successful business must be built.
As always, it is in the analysis of what we expect as consumers that we learn so much about being good providers. To the above points, it’s about being a true partner, taking the stress off our clients (or clinicians) as completely and as quickly as we’re able to, and (of course) being really, really nice about it.
But perhaps the most important thing — the lesson I learned from my Dad, and the lesson my soon-to-be-ex accountant seems to have missed — is that to be a good partner, you have to be there. Because no matter how well you know your craft, it doesn’t matter much if I can’t get you on the phone.