Matters Column

Take my advice: Be a good client or customer

May 5, 2017
| By Paul Hense |
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I don’t know what the statistics are, but apparently, a lot of people don’t follow their doctor’s advice. In February, I found myself in miserable discomfort from a condition that plagues 50 percent of men over 50. It got so uncomfortable that I was about to call the doctor. Then it struck me. What would he tell me to do? His most likely solution would be the ones he had advised to do six months ago. Drink lots of water. Cut back on caffeine and carbonated beverages. Guess what? I did those things, and the problem significantly improved. Follow your doctor’s advice, and things just may improve.

Are you following your doctor’s advice? Have you considered the advice from the other professionals you pay for advice?

Being a good client goes a long way in enhancing the results you get from your advisers. There were incidents over the years when dissatisfied clients who suffered from self-inflicted wounds confronted me. A woman was angry because she was subjected to undue pressure to get her corporate tax filed by the due date. With extensions, it was a corporate return due Sept. 15. When I pointed out to her that her QuickBooks schedules were dated Sept. 14 and that was the date we received her work, she expressed her disdain for people who blame the customer for problems.

My purpose is not to point out to you there are difficult clients or customers. My point is to ask you if you might be one. That person is an extreme, but people will ask for a referral to good CPA, lawyer, investment adviser, etc. You can get great results from an average adviser by being a good customer. You can get inferior results from an outstanding adviser because you failed to act in a responsible manner. I remember 30 years ago being at a funeral where the person had died of lung cancer. A sister of the deceased was lamenting the failure of the oncologists to save her brother’s life. She didn’t mention he had smoked for 40 years and had continued to smoke up to the day he died.

If your accountant tells you what they need to perform a service, get them the correct information in a logical, organized format at least 30 days before the due date. If you do that and you have a competent accountant, chances are pretty good you, the accountant, the bank and the IRS will be satisfied. If you fail to organize the data and give the accountant reasonable time to do the work, only the IRS will be happy. In fact, the IRS will be elated because interest and penalties are just as good as taxes collected to fund the many government projects you like. Listen to the ads on TV and radio about tax experts who can, for exorbitant fees, get you relief from IRS harassment you wouldn’t have had in the first place if you had responsibly followed a good tax professional’s advice.

The best attorneys are not the ones who get you out of trouble. The best attorneys are the ones who keep you out of trouble in the first place. One of the most famous and high-priced trial lawyers is Johnny Cochran, of the O.J. Simpson murder trial of the century fame. The trial was horribly expensive and Simpson did get away with murder.

Do you wonder if any attorney ever advised Simpson not to kill his wife or any of her friends?

I guess you would assume he would know that. There are a lot of things you are assumed to know but need to be reminded of. In your annual meeting, you should discuss any areas of your business that need legal attention. Get the attorney’s advice in writing then do what you are advised. Good attorneys are proud of the guidance they have given their clients that kept them focused on good practices. Trial lawyers salivate over billings they and their opposing attorney are going to inflict separating the mouse poop from the brown rice before a judge or arbitrator. If you think arbitrators and judges are fair and balanced (no comments please from liberals or conservatives), you need to rethink that belief. I have seen judgments and arbitration awards that defy logic. Do the best you can to avoid being in court or arbitration.

I had only one client who got rich on a single stock purchase in 45 years in tax practice. We had hundreds of clients who got rich by following a well-structured plan of investment over many years. You often hear people who perceive themselves as brilliant investors bragging about the killings they have made in the stock market. They leave the bar, get in their Yugo and drive to the duplex they are renting in Kentwood. Meanwhile, a quiet individual a few miles away leaves the country club in a Mercedes and drives to a home in East Grand Rapids, having said little about how they and their spouse maximized their 401(k) contributions for 40 years. Obviously, that is an exaggeration but I am trying to make a point.

Here are some simple guidelines to follow:

  • From your doctor: don’t drink or eat too much, exercise, don’t smoke or drive 80 miles per hour on winding, gravel country roads.
  • From your dentist: brush and floss every day.
  • From your accountant: keep good records, tell the truth, be timely and think.
  • From your attorney: have good contracts and follow them, tell the truth, avoid verbal and physical harassment, and don’t kill anyone or their friends no matter how much they annoy you.
  • From your financial advisor: have a plan of investment, follow it and understand there is risk investing in guaranteed 20 percent return on money invested at the suggestion of your brother in law, fishing buddy, hair stylist, cellmate, etc.

That was not all inclusive, but I think it would be hard to find fault with any of it. It takes two people to make any kind of good relationship. We are used to judging our customers or clients as good or bad. Step to the other side of the mirror and ask yourself if you are a good client.

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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