I had a very interesting experience last week trying to perform what I considered to be an incredibly easy task. News reports indicated that the U.S. Treasury was issuing two new sets of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS): one for five years and the other for 20. Previously, there were only 10-year TIPS.

I wanted to find the announcement of the new TIPS and went to the press release section of the Treasury's Web site. I couldn't find it.  Deciding to call the Office of Public Affairs, I had great difficulty finding the telephone number. I had to look through five press releases until I found it.

A little less frustrated, I called and, of course, I got the automated response system.  I listened attentively to a message that stated if I was calling during nonbusiness hours to try another number. I guess the system couldn't tell what time it was.  It was the seventh option that indicated the person I wanted. I was optimistic that success was forthcoming. Wrong!

Then, there was a recording saying this person was on vacation and I was given the same telephone number that I originally called.  Thinking I was crafty, I dialed "O," and was told "No operator is available."

It was time to get creative and think outside the box, so I dialed the main number again and when I got through I pressed "5" because I like that number. Bingo! A wonderful person, a speechwriter at Treasury, answered.

She was most cordial and explained that the press release was indeed on the Web site. The reason I didn't find it was because it was under "Deputy Assistant Secretary for Federal Finance Timothy S. Bitsberger May 2004 Quarterly Refunding Statement." When I mentioned that TIPS wasn't in the title, she answered that some of those at the Treasury had already noticed that. When I told her about the recorded vacation message referring back to the main number, she said that was wrong. And when I informed her it was hard to find the telephone number of the Office of Public Affairs on the Web site, she said she and others at Treasury noticed that, as well.

Okay than, what does this have to do with the price of eggs, or for that matter accounting firms?

Well it's like this. We are now in the information age and customer relationship management systems are being implemented in many accounting firms. When I was growing up and working for my father on weekends in a retail business, customer service was king. That is becoming less and less the case. With Web sites and automated response systems, as more distance is being placed between that initial contact and upper management to the point where there is almost no review of what is transpiring.

Two suggestions: One is have anyone in the firm record all complaints on an individual form for a one week period and then management can compile and review all of them. Also, if you can afford it, pay a marketing professional to critique both your Web site and automated response system.

You don't have to implement an expensive client feedback survey to find out what your firm can do better. It can be as simple as listening in the right places where client and potential clients make contact with your firm.

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