Clients today have many choices. There are many qualified service providers and numerous services have become commoditized. Companies that succeed in this environment know and understand the value of partnering with their clients for success. Forming client partnerships is more than just providing quality service, it requires a commitment to a long-term relationship and truly listening and understanding the client’s needs. Great client service organizations care about their clients and their business outcomes. They develop service organizations that are fluid and flexible to meet their client’s needs. These type organizations also understand the importance of the client “experience” and are intentional about creating a consistent quality experience for the client.
I recently visited with Tony Huffman, owner of Huffman & Company CPA, P.A. who has built an impressive client focused service organization. Huffman grew up in Pensacola, Fla., in a hard-working military family. He found that he had a gift for running, and earned a track scholarship to Mississippi College where he majored in accounting. After college, he worked for the predecessor firm to the Big 4 accounting firm Ernst & Young. For seven years, he traveled the world with Ernst and lived in London and Brussels. In 1991, he decided to open his own firm, so he “hung out his shingle” and launched his practice. Over the years, he has experienced rapid growth and today he manages a staff of over 10 people serving over 1,500 clients. His firm focuses on individual and small business tax accounting services. He also created an affiliated company, Financial Solutions, which provides Quickbooks accounting services and solutions for small business clients.
What I quickly realized was that Huffman is an entrepreneur serving entrepreneurs. He has a creative and business-minded approach to accounting needs, which I am sure is why his clients identify with him. He attributed his firm’s growth and success to a “team-based approach.” They make sure that multiple people are knowledgeable about the client’s needs so that the client always has someone readily accessible. Huffman shared a vivid example of this team approach in action with me. In December of 2008, he fractured his C-1 vertebrae while on vacation. Even though this was a potentially life-threatening injury, Huffman’s team led by his director of tax and accounting services, Ginger Hannon Carter, pulled together and they made it through the entire tax season without their clients even knowing that Huffman had been injured.
Huffman also shared, “We try to really focus on the client experience and service.” Where appropriate, Huffman and his team serve as a part of the virtual management team for their clients. In essence, they are trusted advisors for their clients who help their clients analyze opportunities and consider options for growing their business. As an entrepreneur himself, Huffman has invested in various business enterprises, and he and partner John Noblin, along with John Sewell and Bryan Lagg of Blue Cross created the Mississippi Blues Marathon, LLC, which puts on the very successful annual Mississippi Blues Marathon, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi. Huffman also shared that he is currently exploring opening a sports agent company.
While he has enjoyed a lot of success, Huffman is quick to point out that his journey has not been without his challenges. He acknowledged, “public accounting is hard work and finding people dedicated to providing a high level of client service is a challenge for any organization.” He humbly acknowledges that he has been blessed and fortunate in many ways with “a great team and clients” that he enjoys being around. We also discussed how in reality it is impossible to please everyone all of the time. However, great companies strive to do all that they can do to serve their clients with integrity and passion.
Huffman’s success is a good example of how hard work and a passion for excellence pay off over the long term. There are always external factors out of our control, but by working hard, and staying focused on the client’s needs, we are well positioned for success in our enterprises. I am sure that we will see Huffman continue to expand his entrepreneurial enterprises and have a positive impact on our community.
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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