We hear the word standard every day. We met the standard. They exceeded the standard. This is the industry standard. They are performing below standard. The work here is sub-standard. That is within the standard deviation. All this talk of standard day in and day out in phrases we all use or have used, should mean we all know precisely what a standard is and what we should expect as the standard.
Merriam-Webster defines standard as: a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable. This seems almost contradictory what is acceptable I have found in most cases is not the desirable outcome. I may accept the service I get somewhere, but it is not my desired level of service. It may be I paid a price, got what I needed, and was satisfied; however, I may have desired a little more or in some cases, a lot more.
What is a standard? In the accounting field a standard can have many different meanings. It can be a standard of service a client expects. It could be a standard set by the IRS or SEC which must be met. I believe if you want to grow and retain clients a standard is the least acceptable outcome for the products and services you provide. We should never strive to meet the standard. The standard should be the starting point, not the finishing point.
The standard of service is most important to an accounting firm in growing and retaining clients. It is accepted you will deliver a product which will meet the standard for accuracy and information the individual or agency is requiring. Service is another matter. Your perception of the standard of service you believe your client wants may be much different than what your client desires.
Let’s look at how you set a standard of service for your firm. Many firms have policy or operation manuals which state what level of service a client should receive down to what the finalized product should look like. This is a printed standard and may be the standard in your firm; however, these manuals are rarely followed precisely. If they are not followed, the standard then becomes the level of service you do provide the client. It may be better or worse than the printed statement in a manual, but it is in effect the standard. Further, the lowest quality of work you allow to leave your office is the standard you have set, even if you are not the one who did the work. You allowed it to become the standard by allowing it to happen.
Standards are not arbitrary, they are what they are allowed to become. They are established over time. You must avoid creating a different standard just because you are pressed for time, short of personnel, or just do not feel like doing your normal level of work.
This is why the standard you desire for your client has to be the minimum you will accept in your firm. If it is the minimum, your clients will always know the least they can expect from your firm. Since most firms look at the standard as a goal to obtain for taking care of clients your firm should outperform your competitors by default.
Look at something as simple as a greeting. The standard is every client will be greeted by the receptionist upon entering our office. If this is what is in the procedures your receptionist may not even look up and just give an obligatory “Hi!” when they hear the door open and close. I am sure we have all had this happen to us. There are two things which are certain 1) you didn’t feel very welcome and 2) it is not the standard the owner probably intended when they wanted everyone greeted as they entered the office. Now let’s look at the next receptionist, she is behind her desk on the phone, the copy machine is running behind her and you walk in the office. She looks up, makes eye contact smiles widely, and mouths the words “Hello, I will be with you in a minute”. How many want her name and number to hire as your receptionist. The real difference between the two receptionists is the standard they were allowed maintain.
They both met the published standard, one did the least possible the other looked at the standard as the minimum and exceeded it. This is a simple example on ensuring an employee meets a standard or if employees are instructed the standard is the least that will be expected and you must perform at a level above the standard.
Meeting the Standard: Good or Bad, the answer is it can be both. Good, you set a very high and precise standard you could enforce it and have an acceptable level of service in your firm. In this case, meeting the standard would be okay. Bad, accept the standard as the minimum acceptable and ensure your firm always exceeds the standard, which I believe gives a better result because the standard is met, yet by having your employees exceed the standard without stating precisely what you want allows them to determine what is best for the client they are working with at the moment. This allows flexibility for your employee and will keep you from having to write a very strict and precise policy manual to get the proper level of service.
Standards are a large part in the success of your firm and no matter if they are published or unwritten everything you do has a standard. You can have a firm that strives to meet the standard or one which starts from the standard and excels from there.
Charles “Rocky” Lippold, MBA, is the owner of Show Me Financial Solutions, he and his partner mentor and develop small business owners in managing and controlling their
companies allowing them to do what they do best, their profession. He is a QuickBooks ProAdvisor and has over 35 years of owning and operating small businesses. He retired from the U.S. Army as a Career Counselor assisting soldiers in managing their military and civilian careers.
Show Me Financial Solutions, LLC, 700 E McCarty St, Jefferson City, MO 65101 www.showmefinancial.com