I recently engaged a new accounting firm for my business and I thought I'd share my experience as the customer as the conversation really gave me food for thought in terms of how it must feel to be 'the business'.
When I met the Director of the new firm, I was very open with what was going on with my finances. I made the assumption that we were both short on time and were here to do business. That we needed to make the best use of our time in order to get the outcome of the meeting. So my approach was to just be open, honest and direct. I shared with him how my business finances had tracked historically and where I am at now. Most importantly, how the numbers reflected on my performance over that time. My successes and my failures. I suddenly realised just how personal this conversation was and I marvelled at the fact that I was being so vulnerable with this person I'd only just met.
"Is this what it is like to be 'the business'?", I was left wondering.
As you may know, part of my corporate career included spending 15 years as an auditor in both Sydney and San Francisco. As a result, I'm very used to 'looking under the hood' at sensitive information. As a result of this, I have somewhat desensitised myself to the numbers and separated the dollars from the individual. I thought it was better to not really care that Joe Bloggs got paid $x or Jane Bloggs' LTI was worth $Y. It was easier that way so as not to impact my objectivity or independence to the job.
At the same time, I've spent a huge amount of energy and effort as an auditor, and then later in my corporate roles, focusing on empathy and putting myself in my clients' or the business' shoes. I'd actually say I ended up pretty good at it.
This interaction got me questioning it.
Conversations around customer experience are often left to the sales function or customer service areas of the business.
However, as the finance function evolves from back-office to business partner, and as organisations attempt to extract higher revenue per customer the business case for the finance function to take a customer-centric approach end-to-end is high.
CEO of Onguard, Marieke Saeij, has shared how finance is integral to the customer experience given the positive relationship between developing 'frictionless processes' and the end user customer experience. Consider your own team - who touches the outside world? It's not your Financial Controller, it's your A/P clerk, your A/R manager. Quite often it is finance who controls the 'pointy-end' processes like on-time payments and receipts.
Internally, taking a customer-centric approach is an imperative to those frictionless processes. This is why positioning yourself and your team as true business partners is so tough. There are layers of customers - internal and external - often with differing priorities. On one hand, you need to ensure compliance and on the other you need to enable commercial decision making. Taking a customer-centric approach enables finance teams to understand our customers as well as the front line. When we have this level of understanding, we can access new ideas (innovation), align processes (efficiency) and provide customers with a quality experience every time they interact with us (experience).
Customer experience is firmly a priority for a CFO and their team and business partnering is just one part of it. Being on the other side of the finance team equation, I now have a deeper level of appreciation of what it must be like being 'the business' and through the lens of financial results sharing the imperfections of our performance and ourselves with outsiders. A reflection on my performance feels ultimately like a reflection on me.
Can you separate the numbers from the individual?
What makes business partnering so hard for you?