Why keeping customer service at the forefront of every financial decision can guarantee long-term success…
Oftentimes, a business’ accountants and finance professionals were assumed to be a group tucked away in a silo crunching numbers all day. While we do spend a good portion of our days doing just that, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and his/her team are the silent backbone of everything that’s ticking behind the scenes and touches almost every aspect of the business.
Today’s CFO plays a vital role in helping businesses build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders, investors, creditors, attorneys, clients, vendors, colleagues and their teams. They encompass a variety of responsibilities beyond numbers, interest rates, and financial statements. It’s undeniable that customer service is also the CFO’s responsibility.
Here are a few lessons I learned while working my up to the CFO role as a Financial Controller:
Translating the story of numbers into words
Financial reporting is the culmination of what’s happened in the past and helps us create expectations about what may happen next. However, translating the story of numbers into layman’s terms can be challenging especially for those who know the business really well, but not so much how it converts to numbers. The best way I manage this is by considering our end-users as customers and being a great listener. If I can develop a solid understanding of their objectives and needs by actively listening to them, I can then explain the part of the numbers that best applies and not just dollar figures, metrics, and percentages.
These relationships are crucial because they lead to critical thinking by several individuals to identify root causes that lead to solutions. With this we can make adjustments quickly, leave things as they are because they’re working well, and/or better anticipate future events. Getting to this type of collaboration takes patience and time, and similar to customers I need to develop a sense of trust and credibility with end-users so that real progress can be made.
Viewing vendors and creditors as strategic partners
As CFO, alignment with vendors such as software providers, insurance carriers, logistics and other partners means that we need to have more than just a “give/take” relationship as customers and vendors. Time needs to be set aside to discuss needs and opportunities that will allow us to remain on the cutting edge of new technology and change. These partnerships ultimately trickle down to cost savings and a healthier bottom line.
Developing strategic partnerships is also true with bankers and creditors. They need to have a thorough understanding of our business models and what our plans are, which takes more than a quick call to explain. Frequent check-ins over time allows us to work simultaneously with expansion plans that help us scale.
Our independent accountants, tax professionals and insurance agents are also at the core of helping us bulletproof the businesses and remain compliant.
Treating team members as customers
At Inktel, I also head up the Human Resources and Payroll teams, and there are a number of relationships with insurance brokers, benefits carriers, and HCM providers to manage and help us provide our teams with the best experiences and benefits.
Whether we’re managing open enrollment, explaining our wide array of benefits, or addressing employee relations, performance reviews, and regulatory compliance, at the core of each is a relationship with partners and team members. Each of our team members is a customer – when they join us, while they’re with us and even when we part ways. Keeping our teams happy and paid is just a small piece of what we do.
Paying it forward is the best service ever
Those who we are responsible for developing, coaching and mentoring are our greatest and most valuable resources. Considering them as customers gives a different perspective to how we approach this. Customer needs and tastes are important to understand when you’re selling goods and services, and our teams are no different. It’s about taking the time to find out what drives and engages them, to then assist them in crafting goals that are challenging and attainable.
As our future leaders and decision makers, we have an obligation to encourage them to stretch themselves and be uncomfortable enough so that they’re making real progress in their own professional and even personal lives. It is through that process where the most innovations and improvements lie, which benefit them so that they feel fulfilled, but also the employer to make changes when and where necessary. Although there’s always the option to view our teams as cost centers, creating distance and separation in those relationships may cost more in the long run due to high turnover and/or low productivity.
Finally, whether considering best practices to ensure job satisfaction, building relationships with partners and vendors, or breaking down complex information for different audiences, the versatile role of today’s CFO extends far beyond the back office.
Christine Guzman – Chief Financial Officer, Inktel