Fueled By Passion…Fulfilled by Performance

It’s Friday night, about 8pm Mountaint time, & I’m sitting in the Denver Airport United Club waiting on what’s turned into about a 3 hour flight delay. I should (hopefully) be home by midnight, but it’s unlikely any sooner…

In the last 18 days for work, I’ve been in 16 cities, driven well over 20 hours (across 5 states & 3 tropical islands) in 7 different cars, slept in 8 different hotels (and 1 airplane), been on 8 flights (and I still have 1 more to get home), spanned 4 time zones…and met with 17 firms & hosted 6 QuickBooks Online training events attended by over 100 accountants.

Oh, and did I mention I was home for a whopping 67 hours last week between trips?

Needless to say, my life has been an absolute whirlwind the past few weeks. I’ve had to make decisions like “do I care more about getting in a training session or cardio or sleep” (knowing I may only be getting 3-4 hours of sleep regardless). I’ve been on hold at 1am more than once with the United Premier desk trying desperately to figure out how to make it to my destination or home before midnight and without driving hours as my glass slipper gradually becomes a pumpkin. I’ve far exceeded the recommended dosage of protein bars & tuna packets (in my car racing from one meeting to another). I’ve fallen asleep more than once with my face in my laptop somewhere between 1am & 3am local time. My earliest (but not only pre-dawn) call was at 4:30am local time. And, I’ve managed to pack in more first-time meetings with new partners than I typically do in a month (or more).

Am I exhausted? Drained? Sleep deprived? In major need of a few days at home (and manicure)? Heck yeah – but am I energized and inspired by all of the amazing conversations and “light-bulb moments” that I’ve experienced in the past 3 weeks? HECK YEAH! These past few weeks have been an amazing reminder to me of why I do what I do – and why I push myself so hard.

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There’s a sign at my gym that reads, in part: “I’m obsessed, a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated”. I read it constantly when I’m training, and use it to motivate myself to push harder, lift heavier, go faster…but recently I’ve been thinking of that even outside of the gym. It’s really become part of my core, part of my why.

After making the 90 minute drive from a firm in Northern Utah this afternoon, my last meeting of the trip, I arrived at the airport to this message from them in my email:

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I had so many similar conversations with partners I’ve been meeting with that it’s impossible to even think of slowing down. Those conversations and their excitement has propelled me into my next non-stop day & I’m so excited to keep turning on the gas over the next few months.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband & family that enable me to put my career and my partners so high on my priority list. I honestly couldn’t do what I do on the road without my life-line back home. We’ve made a commitment to each other to support both of our careers, and have adopted a “work-life integration” motto (thanks for the term, Ed Kless). I never feel that I’m taking away from my home life by putting so much of myself into work – instead, I’ve got a built-in motivator cheering me on (and me him) each step of the way.

Throughout these daunting marathon days, as I’d drive from meeting to meeting, to hotel, to airport, I got to share the great news of another awesome visit. Each time I was reminded (as usual) that it’s moments like those that motivate me to keep going, and affirm why every flight, every mile, every early morning, and every tuna packet are just adding fuel to my fire.

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Earning Customer Loyalty

This time last year, my amazing fiancé (now husband) surprised me for my birthday with a 6-month coaching package from an online fitness coach I’d been obsessed with following for several months through various Social channels. For once, a fitness persona who uses hashtags like “#TeamPants” & “#MyMomFollowsMe”, and is 100% focused on bettering herself and anyone who will follow. It’s not an overstatement to say that Sarah Bowmar has changed my life.

Upon first look at the program (meal plan + cardio + weight training routines), I was completely overwhelmed & remember telling Brian “there’s no way I can actually do this while traveling like I do”. But for anyone who has spent any time with me on the road this past year, it’s clear that where there’s a will, there’s a way – and I’ve made it happen. Even if that means living out of a cooler in a hotel room, or eating MRE-style tuna pouches while driving across Southern Illinois.

But I promise, this isn’t a blog about fitness – in fact, one of the things I respect so much about Sarah has nothing to do with fitness at all – it has to do with her ability to earn customer loyalty – and that’s something we all can agree is a highly sought after skill…

From the moment I discovered Sarah, I was hooked – skimming through all her Instagram posts, Tweets, YouTube videos, and diligently saving her newsletter workouts to cobble together some of the most challenging workouts I’ve ever done – all with material she provides to followers for free. I remember for a split second thinking “why do I need her coaching package, I have everything she does already?”, but I underestimated her – and myself.

I know for many accountants, they’re doing things on their own as well – I’ll often meet a firm who has a great start to their online practice, and I’m so impressed that they’ve done it with little to no resources from Intuit, but it’s clear they’re struggling (and often frustrated). It’s so fun being the one who gets to break the good news to them by sharing everything we can provide to them as part of our managed account team. Ultimately, It’s an opportunity for us to really earn the loyalty of our partners, who have put their trust in us, by putting their clients on our platform.

As I’ve watched Sarah & her husband, Josh, build their businesses over this past year, I’ve seen myself go from “freemium” user, to client, to supplement user, to elite member of their bowmarfitness membership website. I’ve seen her soar to over 1 million Instagram followers (giving back regularly to loyal followers by doing weekly – sometimes daily – giveaways). And I’ve caught myself feeling such a sense of gratitude for what she’s done for me…and through that, an amazing sense of loyalty. There are millions of places I could go online to find more workouts, but I choose to come back to the Bowmars, because they invested in me, and earned my loyalty.

There’s such a sense of accomplishment when I know that partners who previously recommended other solutions have now shifted to QuickBooks Online. Accounting software is just a tool, and they all have debits & credits, but what can set a tool apart from another is the people behind that brand. I only hope that I can be a similar inspiration to the accountants I work with every day. I hope that my managed firms feel valued, appreciated, and even inspired by me as they make huge strides and move closer to the daunting task of taking their practice online. I imagine when many of them first hear my  pep talk, they feel a bit overwhelmed too, but I’ve seen some of my firms make amazing progress this past year, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Throughout the year, I’ve sent progress check-ins to Sarah, and she’s been an amazing encouragement, as well as providing me guidance on things to do differently. Anything worth doing in life is challenging, but having a cheerleader rooting you on sure helps. She constantly makes me feel like she feels proud of the difference she’s made in my life.

In the same way, I absolutely love getting the call or email from my partners telling me “got another QBO for you”, and I love that we’ll often do a virtual happy dance together when a big one comes across. It’s such a great privilege to represent a company like Intuit, and help earn customer loyalty for QBO. I love feeling like I’ve helped make a difference in my partners’ careers…and lives.

Live from #TurboTaxLifeLine 2015

This week I had an amazing opportunity to join the TurboTax social team in San Diego for what Intuit calls “LifeLine”…the final push before tax day where Intuit employees gathered to help answer the thousands (and thousands) of last minute questions from customers before the filing deadline. I was asked to blog live from the front lines, and my updates were posted on Insights (Intuit’s intranet) and sent out via SNAP (Intuit’s internal newsletter). I thought it was such a great experience that I had to share it here too…

Tuesday, April 13, 12:37am

I started yesterday (Monday) morning at 5am with a text exchange with fellow colleague Madeline Reeves (who was also here at LifeLine today) about how hard it was to get up so early & commute down to San Diego today (her from Seattle, me from Palm Springs)…after spending the day with the LifeLine team, I realize just how worth it that early morning was.

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One of the highlights was sitting at the Social Team table with Jim McGinnis & Ken Wach – two Intuit VPs who surely could have said they had more important things to do than answer TurboTax customer questions…but there they were, sleeves rolled up, right with the rest of us. It was also humbling to see that in the midst of the numerous questions about why returns were $29.99 instead of free, or how they can get their money back for the duplicate TT purchase they made, there were questions that we were able to answer that somehow felt like we were making our customers’ life a little easier.

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As a remote employee, I miss most of the holiday parties, costume contests, and sadly, sometimes camaraderie…but today I felt like we all came together to Deliver Awesome to our customers.

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Wednesday, April 15, 1:37am

#TurboTaxLifeLine – Day 2

If Monday was a LONG day…the word for Tuesday was hectic!

Tuesdays in our AAG world are known as #TSheetsTuesday. One of our highest rated QuickBooks Online App partners, TSheets Time Tracking, has created a “can you top this” atmosphere where Intuit employees, partners, and ProAdvisors try to one-up each other each week with the best TSheets Tuesday photos featuring their trademark “supersoft Tshirts”. Yesterday, team AAG got to bring TSheets Tuesday to #TurboTaxLifeLine here in San Diego, and present Scott Cook with his first TSheets Tshirt.

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Since Starting at Intuit 18 months ago, I’ve repeatedly been impressed by our leadership team’s “do as I say AND as I do” attitude, which always inspires me. I mentioned Monday how much it meant to see Jim McGinnis & Ken Wach in the trenches with us. Yesterday the cafeteria was packed again with employees from all over the place, uniting for one common cause: to do the nation’s taxes. I was honored to have the chance to personally thank Scott for setting the example for us and showing us how we win together. Just like a proud dad, he beamed back at me and said “well, our customers need us this week more than ever” and off we went, back to the AnswerXchange queue to see if we could delight another TurboTax customer.

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In a company as big at Intuit – it’s so easy to feel like you’re such a tiny part of the big picture…but Tuesday we had this huge reminder that we’re all #OneIntuit.

Wednesday, April 15, 10:29am

Coffee!

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It’s officially TDay – the mood (and the music) is more tense today. Even the social table could be mistaken for the “anti-social table”. Lots of heads down. We’re in the home stretch, and the suggestion board sums up my thoughts quite nicely. I think the whole San Diego LifeLine crew is running on coffee and passion to deliver awesome to our customers – one more day, team!

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Thursday, April 16, 9:45am

Perspective. Exhaustion. Empathy. Gratitude.

I can sum up my lifeline experience in those four words.

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Coming from the QuickBooks world, I now have a new perspective on the role that our TurboTax care team plays – especially leading up to Tax Day. Having never been on the front line before, I had no idea the sheer volume, nor the vast array of topics that our customers struggle with to do their taxes. While some companies might feel that determining the depreciation schedule for chicken coops, whether someone should or shouldn’t be paying tax in Yonkers, or how to account for the $8,000 that a student earned from his father last Summer is not a software company’s problem, Intuit brought all hands on deck (including experts for each state), and did everything we could to help each and every one of them.

April 15 is sort of like the marathon finish line for most of my partners. They finally make it, but celebrating is the last thing on their mind – sleep is first. They’re exhausted. April 16 is a day of recovery for most tax accountants. With my partners, most of the last four weeks has sounded something like “That will be great, let’s talk after April 15”. This year, I finally understand (in a very small way) what that must feel like. We had agents chatting away until 9pm last night…it almost felt like a New Year’s Eve countdown…thank goodness it didn’t have to wait until midnight (everyone might have fallen asleep).

After this week, I have a new dose of empathy for my firms & what they go through. Yes, I only spent 3 days at LifeLine, but it makes me feel like I’ve lived in their shoes even if it’s for a short time. The pressure and the pace were just mini-windows into the end of tax season, and now I know exactly how my firms must feel.

Finally, I am so filled with gratitude to Intuit, and to the team who does this full time. I’m thankful that we have agents who sift through these questions and help these customers all day, every day. I’m grateful that our company chose to give the rest of us a chance to ride along for the week and see how it’s done. And I’m thrilled to have the chance to share it with all my colleagues and recommend LifeLine to anyone who has the opportunity to do it next year. I’ll happily save a seat for you.

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Going the Extra 1,000 Miles

With a quick glance at my Twitter feed, you’ll find out pretty quickly that I’m extremely passionate about customer service. I probably choose to exercise my Twitter voice a tad too often when I’m frustrated by any of my frequent vendors, or receive poor service in general…and I know I’ve already blogged about the topic here too. But it’s a two-way street – I expect and expect to provide others with exceptional experiences. It’s part of why I feel working at Intuit fits me so well – after all, our final core value is Deliver Awesome.

When I personally experience a disappointing customer experience, I often find that the way it’s handled is even more of what sticks out in my mind than the initial problem in general. For example, I was recently mischarged at CVS for a few items (nothing earth shattering, but it was more the principle of it), and hadn’t caught it until I was already home and on my way out of town. I brought in my receipt when I got back, and explained what happened. While the woman did refund my money (finally, after an argument about it), she made me feel so stupid and frustrated that while I got my $10, the experience was far more expensive & I left a frustrated customer really questioning whether I wanted to shop there going forward (after all, there’s a Walgreens down the street). Or on a recent flight delay, I finally argued United into Super-Shuttling me home instead of making me stay at LAX (25 minute flight from Palm Springs) overnight, but not after they gave me such an attitude that I actually Tweeted to American Airlines asking if they would match my United status.

I sometimes feel like a broken record talking about how proud I am to be wearing Intuit Blue and representing a company who puts Employees and Customers so high up on their priority list. This past month, however, I’ve been involved in a situation that takes that pride to the next level and beyond.

The scenario starts off with every employee’s worst nightmare – a partner, and their customer, having major problems and unable to get straight answers from support. To add insult to injury, there was a delay in getting an escalated support agent in touch with them. I’ll just come out and say it – it was bad. I was mortified that balls were dropped, and absolutely fell on my sword with my partner accepting full responsibility for the delay, and the poor experience.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, all of this culminated the Friday night before Christmas…but that’s actually where the story starts getting good. Around 5pm local time, I had a VP at Intuit on the phone, walking the halls of the office, recruiting an army to fix it.

I’d love to say it was an easy fix – and that by Monday morning that next week they were up and running, but that’s not how it went. If you fast forward – you’ll skip through multiple hospital visits (don’t ask), numerous long nights & weekends worked (including middle-of-the-night file imports), several holidays ignored to ensure deadlines were hit, and a plethora of other bumps in the road…all with one goal in mind: Deliver Awesome to this customer.

No, we couldn’t make up for the poor initial experience, nor could we snap our fingers and make this particular problem go away, but what we could do is provide our partner & customer with the determination to get them back up and running and not give up on them. After one of our numerous status calls, I wound up in a back & forth conversation with our Care Leader who’s been spearheading this operation – and I told him then how much I knew he’d done – and appreciated him & the team so much. I couldn’t help but feel, in the midst of this nightmare, so much pride to be on their team. We jokingly asked each other about a theme song for this entire project – his suggestion seemed too fitting to argue – he and the team have definitely gone the extra 500 miles – and 500 more!

The Art of Good Complaining

Being the daughter of an audio engineer, going to the movies was always a little different for our family. Besides the fact that we kids were forced to sit clear through the end of the credits to give my father the pleasure of spotting any friends or colleagues who had a hand in creating the masterful digital sound, we then would have to wait for him to track down a theater manager to let them know that something was wrong with the audio output in the theater itself. More often than not, Dad would make fast friends who appreciated him lending his expert ear to their establishment…and would thank him by giving him a movie voucher for next time. It became a running joke that Mr. Hogan hadn’t actually paid for a movie since 1987.

Maybe it’s genetic then, because I’ve always had a way with words when it comes to complaining nicely.  My usual opening like goes something like “I realize this isn’t your fault, so I apologize in advance that you’re the one taking my call, but…”. It’s amazing how often that disclaimer immediately helps win over the person I need on my side. I find this approach is far more successful than what I really want to say or do, which unfortunately yields extremely poor results.

Whether my techniques were acquired or inherited, I won’t complain about them. There are times when others have been mistreated, or just gotten nowhere with a complaint and I’ve called back to discuss and gotten exactly what we wanted. Of course, things don’t always go my way, and when I decide something is worth escalating, I do so with little to no expectations of the person receiving the feedback listening let alone caring. I do it more as a way to vent when I experience such bad customer service. Every once in a while though, I see glimmers of hope that remind me customer service and pride of small business ownership still live today.

On a recent trip, after my late-night gym trip, I opted to run out for a healthy post-workout snack from the neighborhood cafe (I lie, it was the local Chocolate/ Gelato/ Coffee shop – and it’s REALLY good!). I squeezed in a few extra minutes on the treadmill to make up for the delicious Italian wafer that comes with their house-made gelato. When I pulled up in front & ran in (oblivious to the “CLOSED” sign in the window), I was shocked to be stared down by two lethargic teenagers who told me “sorry, we’re closed”. Looking down at my watch, it was still 7 minutes before closing time, and I let them know. They again assured me that they were no longer open.

Completely irritated, I was tempted to post a poor review on Yelp, ruining their perfect 5-Star rating streak. Instead, I found an email on their website & quickly typed a message titled: “Too bad you aren’t open when you say you are”. I briefly explained the situation & off I went in search of a more sensible post-work out choice (like maybe a protein bar).

To my surprise, I awoke the next morning to a reply from the store’s owner. Not only did he apologize for the way I was treated, and assured me that company policy is to remain open during business hours, but – get this – thanked me for letting him know. He asked me to stop by if I was still in town, and said they wanted to give me something for my trouble. When I walked in on my way to morning appointment, I was pleased to meet his son, who again, thanked me profusely as he handed me a $20 gift card and made me an incredible espresso on the house.  He also told me that the employees would be handled. As I walked out, he called out “Come back again soon, Love”.

Granted, one lost out-of-town customer wouldn’t make or break a store like that, but it’s amazing that instead of losing business, I want to tell everyone how great this family-owned store is. Instead of being frustrated and never going back – I now know where I’ll be getting my coffee every time I’m in the neighborhood…a place where customer service is alive & kicking.

Join me next time for episode two featuring my adventures with Time Warner Cable…

Game On!

One of the most heated battles being waged today in the accounting industry is over online accounting software – both for those already using it, and those users getting ready to make the switch.  New players are popping up, literally every month, claiming new features, more flexibility, and sporting fancy logos – and there’s about as much mudslinging and smear campaigning as an election November.

Over the past several years, working for companies that allowed me to “play well in the sandbox with everyone”, I’ve been able to make friends, form strategic alliances, and have come to respect so many of the individuals and companies in this arena. I’ve had a front row seat on the sidelines and have watched it all play out as this duel has heated up…until the other day when I got a call.

I’m proud to announce that I’ve been drafted! Effective this week, I’m suiting up to play for one of the largest accounting software companies in the world, Intuit. As a brand new QuickBooks Online is unveiled, so too is our brand new Dream Team, including my new colleagues, Ray Barlow and David Bergstein. Together, we’ll take on the challenge of helping CPAs bring their clients into the Cloud, and deliver the promise that you can never outgrow the new QBO.

 As if putting on an Intuit jersey isn’t satisfying enough by itself, the promise of teaming with industry legends like Darren Root, Doug Sleeter, reconnecting with some of my favorite partners like Bill.com, Avalara, and SmartVault, and working with newly formed connections like Richard Roppa and Stacy Kildal might just be the icing on the cake. The cherry on top is the opportunity to work even closer with one of the most influential people on my career, Scott Cytron.

This will definitely be a marathon and not a sprint, so I’m packing my stilettos, but lacing up my Nikes for the long haul. We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves, and know that this will be an exciting journey. The key is that we’ll be here to help firms, accountants, and our customers through it each step of the way.

Ready, Set, GO!

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A Few Words About Jamba Hut

I’ve always believed that it’s far better to find something you’re really good at – and excel at that – than to be a Jack of all trades, but not really do anything well. There’s a slippery slope when you stretch yourself too thin, and wind up dropping balls and inevitably letting clients down. As someone who struggles to say “no” when asked to take on more, I’m constantly fighting this battle myself…which is perhaps why I feel so strongly about it.

Any traveler can relate to the experience of rushing from airplane to meeting and being forced to grab “airport fare” or some other quick (under most circumstances completely unacceptable) meal on the go. Over the past several years I’ve become a HUGE fan of the colorful concoctions filled with fruits & veggies made in a jiffy at Jamba Juice. Best of all, there seem to be new airport locations popping up left & right, so even a 45 minute layover can yield a healthy meal and spare my seat neighbor on my connecting flight from any unappreciated greasy McBagged aroma. I’ve come to count on the fact that Jamba always does one thing well: make fast healthy smoothies.

In typical fashion, after a near flight disaster (2.5 hour delay that would have made me miss my appointment), I wound up taking an early flight to SFO this week. After skipping lunch due to the rush, I made a bee line for a juice. When I walked in, to my horror, I was greeted by the smell of burning cheese. As I looked around to find out what the smell could be, I couldn’t help but examine the “new improved” menu: Frozen Yogurt, Breakfast Wraps, Pastries, and Pizza (of course, it was California, so they were called “flat breads”, but let’s be real – it’s pizza).

I laughed it off at first and jokingly contemplated ordering some type of PB & J wrap, but followed my instincts and ordered my usual healthy snack. Stepping aside to wait for it to be made, I was approached by a Smoothista informing me that they didn’t have all of the ingredients to make my drink. He asked me “What do you want us to do?”. I’m not sure what my reaction really was, but I’m sure I gave him quite a look back – he quickly suggested bananas as a substitute and I agreed “sure, that’s fine”.

As I watched him for at least 5 more minutes struggle to make this drink, I shook my head thinking “this is a smoothie shop, why is it so hard to get a smoothie?” After an unusually long wait, he presented my smoothie to me with an apology for the wait claiming it was “one of the hardest ones to make”. I smiled, successfully containing my laugh and quickly left. Perhaps he was new, but it was the first time I’ve ever seen anyone struggle to make a basic smoothie at a smoothie shop.

Just imagine this situation in the accounting world – can you imagine telling a client “we can’t complete this tax return by April 15th, what would you like us to do?” – of course not! They are paying you to perform a service for them, and counting on you to find a solution if there are any issues. At the same time, as a client, I’d never expect my CPA to be able to give me advice on purchasing a car, or diagnosing a medical condition, because I count on him to be my accountant…and want him to focus on being the best accountant he can be.

As so many firms look for ways to differentiate from the competition – one critical thing to remember: don’t ever lower your standards of excellence in order to add more to your menu…after all, smoothies and pizza really don’t mix.