Whose time is more important, yours or your customer’s?

In today’s mail I received a marketing letter from a Denver-based accounting firm eager to expand its clientele. I’d say that I have received a letter from this firm every 2 or 3 months for the past four years and usually toss them in the trash unopened. Convicted by this waste, I called the firm this afternoon and politely asked to be removed from its database.

The irony is that four years ago, after receiving one of the first marketing letters from this firm, I called one of the CPAs listed to determine whether or not my situation was a fit for his accounting firm. When I phoned, the call was answered by a pleasant receptionist and went something like this (I’ve chosen to use fictitious names but the story is absolutely true):

Receptionist: “Good afternoon. Thank you for calling XYZ Accounting Solutions. How may I help you?”

(So far, so good.)

Me: “Hello. I’m calling to speak with one of your CPAs, Tim Smith. Is he available?”

Receptionist: “I’m sorry but the partners don’t accept phone calls without an appointment. Would you like to schedule an appointment with Mr. Smith through me at this time?”

(Wrong answer.)

Me: “No thank you.”

Later that week, I connected with a CPA at a competing firm (who accepts phone calls without an appointment). He and I discussed my accounting situation, determined that we were a good fit, and he’s been doing my personal and business accounting ever since.

My situation isn’t terribly complex. Even so, between quarterly and annual returns, he’s billing me over $1,000 each year. If you’re keeping track, that’s around $4,000 in accounting fees that the original firm forfeited based on its handling of my original phone inquiry. And that’s just me!

I know, I know…conventional time management theory suggests that busy executives should have their calls screened in order to increase their personal productivity…yadda, yadda, yadda… But it comes down to this: “Whose time is more important, yours or your customer’s?”

If you answered “Mine” (as in your time) then I would submit that you probably don’t have many customers and, if you do, you either work for a government entity, utility company, or some other monopoly. If you answered “My customer’s” (as in your customer’s time) and currently take your own calls, then you’re way ahead of the game and likely see the results in your own business.

If, however, you answered “My customer’s” (as in your customer’s time) and your calls are currently being screened, then you have a choice to make. Choose wisely. The stakes may be much higher than you think.