Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Relationship Building at 35 MPG

Last week I was speaking to the owner of a large automobile dealership in the tri-state area who lords over a vehicular empire that moves roughly 25,000 cars a year and generates some $800 million in sales. Let me repeat that - $800 million.

At 66 years old and with a 45-year pedigree in the business that his grandfather started nearly a century ago, I asked him point blank how he stays motivated and maintains his edge over the competition – including the influx of start-ups and existing entities that allow customers to purchase cars online.

He broke it down in the most basic terms.

“In the end it’s all about relationships. People don’t have to come into a dealership anymore although we want them to keep coming. Take Amazon. They’re talking about getting into online car sales, but they haven’t said how they plan to service those vehicles. We build a trust with our customers and that’s why we have many of them for life. Online companies like Amazon and others can’t do that.”

Prior to the advent of cloud software and other remote-enabling technologies, the relationships between clients and their CPAs were not that different from that of a faithful customer and their local car dealer – or insurance salesman for that matter. When a client had a problem, he/she would pick up the phone and call their accountant and more often be granted a personal audience with them.

Now, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of CPA firms across the country see most of their client base just one time a year – and that’s primarily at tax time when they drop off their organizers.  

Nevertheless, whether clients communicate with their accountant via email, text or Instagram for that matter it’s still strongly relationship-driven. Client-CPA loyalty as a rule will be stronger and last longer than a customer and a car dealer, where consumers are chasing the best value as opposed to their level of comfort with a sales person on the show floor.

You can go to almost any industry-related conference and hear ad infinitum how pending technologies will revamp the way the traditional accounting firm operates – even to the point of rendering commoditized work obsolete.

But whether you’re preparing a 1040 or consulting on litigation support, no amount of blockchain or AI is going to eradicate that critical relationship quotient between CPA and client.

No more than Amazon will be able to complete a tune-up online.

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