William Vaughan Company (WVCO) is a large firm with the personality of a smaller practice. Based in Maumee, Ohio, WVCO has always aspired to big things – and achieved them – but has never lost sight of what’s most important: employee and client satisfaction.
In fact, the firm’s core values center around its staff, with an emphasis on ideals like mutual respect, work-life balance, lifelong learning, and innovation. Smart use of technology helps WVCO live up to these and other core values, but the focus on people is paramount.
“We think our client service is second to none, and our client surveys tell us that clients agree,” says Sharon L. Trabbic, AAAPM, chief operating officer at WVCO. “Our firm’s success is tied to our employee satisfaction, because our clients like to know that the same person who worked on their account last year is going to be working on their account this year.”
In 2013, the firm had zero employee turnover, something many tax and accounting firms can’t say. This level of employee retention is nurtured from the first day someone joins the firm. Business cards and notepads are at new employees’ desks from day one, so they immediately feel like part of the team. Training begins that first day, too, so employees know exactly what’s expected of them and what they can expect – including extras like dry cleaning pickup and drop-off at the office.
“The firm doesn’t pay for their dry cleaning, but if we can save our employees 10 or 15 minutes, we think it’s worth it to provide that perk,” Trabbic says.
Process Makes Perfect
Of course, it’s not all about niceties. The staff is thoroughly trained so everything is done “the William Vaughan Company way.”
“We’ve always looked for processes and procedures to help us be more efficient and make sure our clients are well-served,” Trabbic says. “You’re more efficient if you can repeatedly do the same thing over and over again with success. It’s also the best way to continuously improve our procedures.”
For example, the firm has a flowchart for how to prepare a 1040 tax return. If an error is made, it’s easy to identify whether a step in the process was missed or if another review step or procedure needs to be added to avoid future errors.
The firm’s reliance on processes is independent from its use of technology – but the two principles complement each other perfectly.
Take GoFileRoom, for instance. Every aspect of the firm’s data is stored in a central online location. When an employee or client needs information, they can access it through the cloud-based system. WVCO also uses the FirmFlow component of GoFileRoom to automate the process and keep track of everything.
“We use a first-in, first-out philosophy, so when a tax return comes into the office, it’s scanned and time-stamped, and then when someone is available they can go into GoFileRoom and select the first return in the queue,” Trabbic says. “That’s how we manage to keep our tax seasons fairly sane.”
She adds that GoFileRoom has saved the firm a lot of administrative time that was once spent tracking down client files.
“In the past, we had one full-time administrative person just dedicated to keeping track of files and filing things,” Trabbic explains. “When a client file was in someone’s office we’d have to send out emails tracking it down. That’s just the way things were back then.”
Simplicity and Security
Technology like GoFileRoom has other distinct advantages, such as improved security compared to using paper files.
The firm always had good security measures in place, but storing everything online is a vastly better solution. “If someone doesn’t require access to a file we can block them,” Trabbic explains. “Back in the old days, anybody – even cleaning crews – could go into a file cabinet and look at client files. It never happened to us, but it’s happened at other firms.”
Online client portals offer similar security, even if it does take a bit of education to get some clients up to speed.
“New clients are automatically signed up for the portal, and we continually invite them to use it,” Trabbic says. “We remind them that they’ll no longer have to keep track of where their tax return is and that they can get documents on demand instead of waiting for them to be delivered.”
Employees are encouraged to use the portals with clients every time, too, and the staff has embraced the virtues of a virtual office setup. For example, during last year’s rough winter, employees often took advantage of the benefit of working remotely from home.
Nice Firms Finish First
Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into client and employee satisfaction. WVCO has always been a full-service firm that offers specialized expertise such as management consulting. WVCO also has a team of forensic and fraud accountants and a free service called End Fraud Now, which lets clients report suspected fraud anonymously online. In addition, WVCO provides niche services to the industries it works with, such as identifying costing issues for its manufacturing clients.
The firm has been honored for excellence many times over the years, including national recognition in 2010 from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
What’s more, WVCO has a great reputation with its employees. As just one example, in 2014, WVCO was recognized as one of the area’s Top Workplaces by The Toledo Blade – a ranking decided by the votes of WVCO’s own staff.
Certainly, the firm’s commitment to work-life balance plays a significant role. This balance includes encouraging employees to participate in charitable activities that matter most to them. Employees who report their involvement to the firm are paid for that time.
“Almost every employee has something they’re passionate about outside work,” Trabbic says. “The firm has always been involved in the community and we support our employees’ individual efforts, too.” (See sidebar below.)
Prioritizing work-life balance certainly hasn’t held the firm back. In fact, in 2013 WVCO acquired another firm and has other acquisitions in the works.
“We love to grow our firm,” Trabbic says. “We have a good strategic plan and know where
we want to go in the future.”