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SERVICE: THE KEY TO FINANCIAL LEADERSHIP

By OLYA KOVNATSKA, CMA, AND C.S. “BUD” KULESZA, CMA, CFM
July 1, 2017
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Service concept is on the blackboard with thumb up hand aside.

These service goals can help finance professionals improve decision making, increase competitiveness, and build partnerships across the organization.

 

Service is a key building block in positioning finance in a leadership role within an organization. Establishing respect for and trust in the finance function requires a significant change in how it’s viewed by others. Financial staff at all levels must take a proactive approach to enhance the extent and quality of services they provide. To establish true partnership within the organization, we must have a clear understanding of our own roles in this process as well as the expectations of other team members. As Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAP Group, said, “If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone else.”

 

WHY SERVICE?

 

Successful finance professionals understand that providing exceptional service to internal customers is a key differentiator in decision making and competitiveness. We don’t learn soft skills when we go to accounting school, but it’s these nonfinancial skills that make the difference between just meeting vs. exceeding expectations. Excellent service starts with effective communication.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “EXCEED EXPECTATIONS”?

 

To exceed our customers’ expectations and build trust, we must go beyond providing solid financial information to being able to present it in an understandable, actionable way that resonates with those we serve.

 

Accountants are notorious for dwelling on the past, and that’s where we tend to lose the attention of our business partners. To win them back, we must not only turn a historical perspective into a prospective view but also keep explanations clear and concise and focus on using information to benefit future results.

 

Where we are going is more critical than where we have been. When your analysis and suggestions are forward looking and the language is easy to understand, the message gets delivered.

 

IMPROVING SERVICE

 

Strive to Serve: Embrace the concept of service. Exceptional service isn’t a buzzword. Strive to put excellent service at the heart of everything you do so it becomes an integral part of your identity. We can all learn the importance of a customer-centric culture from two highly acclaimed companies—Apple and Amazon—that are renowned for their top-notch customer support. Through Amazon’s self-confessed “customer obsession” and Apple’s credo of enriching customers’ lives, both of these companies created a cult of loyal followers who don’t mind paying a premium and wouldn’t even consider shopping anywhere else.

 

Set the Scope: Consider your service offering. Decide what is within the scope of the services you provide. Exceeding your customers’ expectations doesn’t imply going beyond these offerings. Perform the responsibilities of your function to the best of your ability and provide insights on how to use delivered information to further the objectives of the organization. Keep an eye on changing business conditions and customer requirements to ensure your “service offering” is keeping pace with the changing times.

 

Ask and Listen: Don’t tell your customers what they need. Instead, ask why the service is needed and how their request will satisfy that need. Asking a series of “what” and “why” questions and actively listening to your customers will enable you to meet their objectives in the most effective way.

 

Advise: Listen to what your customer is saying. Then advise; don’t argue. Even if you disagree with their point of view, don’t feel compelled to defend an approach or argue against another. If your customer isn’t receptive to your suggestion, offer choices. Help your customer find the best solution by weighing their risks vs. benefits.

 

Offer Alternatives: If you can’t deliver the service requested, suggest an alternative. Separate the way something is done (approach taken) from the desired outcome (results). Never commit to an alternative that others must implement. Take responsibility for only those actions you have control over.

 

Commit: Commit, but don’t overcommit. Promise what’s possible and deliver more than promised. You know the limitations of the financial information systems. If you don’t know, say so; if you require more time to review, say so. It’s always better to undercommit and overdeliver than vice versa.

 

Advocate: Become an advocate for your customer. Finance professionals are in the best position to promote business needs throughout the organization. They also have a keen awareness of the impact of any proposed changes. Support your customers in meeting their objectives, but remember that being an advocate doesn’t mean compromising your objectivity, independence, or ethical integrity. It’s about seeking the best solution for the business with an open mind.

 

Appreciate: Make your customer feel welcome and appreciated. Demonstrate that you are happy to help. Show that you value the opportunity to serve others. Your customer is your top priority. Making customers feel valued is a vital part of service. Don’t forget: We serve people, not organizations.

 

Seek Feedback: Seek candid feedback from your customers and strive for continuous improvement. Don’t wait for a formal review; keep an open ongoing dialogue about how your efforts are impacting those you serve. Review your approach to service on a regular basis, often after a project or event. Ask if you met expectations, as well as what you can do to improve the process. Don’t wait for a problem or request to implement changes. Be proactive.

 

Service exceeds expectations when finance professionals turn their focus to the future and include insights and recommendations that enhance business performance. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you transition from bean counter to business partner by exemplifying excellent service as a financial leader. Remember, great leaders are servant leaders.

 

IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

 

The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/tools-and-resources/leadership-academy.

Olya Kovnatska, CMA, is a finance manager at United Rentals, Inc. in Stamford, Conn., and a member of the IMA Global Board of Directors. She also served on the boards of IMA’s Portland Chapter and Marylhurst Toastmasters Club. You can reach Olya at o.kovnatska@gmail.com.
Bud Kulesza, CMA, CFM, is a former IMA Chair, a lifetime IMA Global Board member, and Dean Emeritus of the IMA Leadership Academy. Bud is an IMA Member-at-Large. You can reach Bud at bud@budkulesza.com.
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