Paperless office & client service

In many of the discussions I've taken part in, client service is frequently cited as the most important aspect of going paperless - particularly the ability to come up with a relevant document for a client while they're sitting with you in the office or talking to you by phone.

But that's just scratching at the surface of the issue. As part of a major research project Charles Verrier and I are undertaking, we would like to collect observations and comments from firms about all the other ways in which installing document management has facilitated better client service. We'd like to know what you thnk about some of the following questions:

  • Did you factor in client service as part of your original rationale for going paperless? To what extent has the implementation lived up to your expectations in this area?
  • Where have you achieved the biggest gains in relation to paperless client service, and have you experienced any disappointments?
  • Are you able to measure the improvements? What kind of data do have that allows you to make these judgements - and does having access to the information itself help you monitor and improve service?
  • Have you pushed your software to its limit, or can you see the potential for applying it in new ways to improve service levels? If so, what sorts of approaches are you considering?

These are just a few starter questions. Once the conversation gets going, I'm sure that a lot of others may emerge. We're looking to you to help lead us in the right direction. Many thanks.

Comments
alan.rolfe's picture

Client service

alan.rolfe | | Permalink

We have been using an electronic DMS since 2007 and all changes have been considered in the context of client service.  In practice this has meant that some of the possible uses for electronic working have been delayed until we can be sure that service will not suffer.

However, we are fully electronic and this paid dividends when the unusually heavy snow came this winter (we are near Southampton, so heavy snow is rare!).  This meant staff could work from home and still meet client expectations, especially given the absolute January deadline.

We also had problems with sharing information between departments, but not everything is visible to everyone without the hassle of finding paper files.  Clients have benefited as one person can often answer all queries, without having to pass off the client between, say, tax and accounts staff.

Measuring any client service benefits in a numerical way is not something that we have done, nor do I know how we would do this, so any suggestions would be gratefully received!

 

cverrier's picture

Risk managment

cverrier | | Permalink

My own top reasons for Paperless Office would certainly include client service, but would probably be headlined with ‘Risk Management’ as the top reason for doing a DM project.

 The heart of successfully defending PI disputes and regulatory audits is the quality of your documentation, and DM can be a huge help with this – not just because it improves the quality of the files, but because it demonstrates a firms’ commitment to quality.

I've note that Document Management systems often demand a more rigorous application of best practices within a firm.   Sometimes users chafe at the demands being made of them by a new system ("I used to do this much faster the old way") but six months down the road, the reduction in missing or mis-filed documents can be really quite noticable.

cverrier's picture

Client self-service?

cverrier | | Permalink

A well organised filing system is always going to deliver client service benefits - If only because it ensures you don't look like an idiot when asked to provide some information for those files.  (A response of "It's in one of the piles of paper on the floor of my office" somehow never looks very good!)

A digital filing system has one major extra ability over a paper one - it can be delivered digitally to as many places as it is needed.    This is obviously a big help in multi-office practices, but it can also mean that files can be accessed by clients on-line.

A digital filing system is the best starting point for a 'client portal' - a secure storage area for client documents that can be accessed directly by the client whenever they wish.   This can then provide clients with a method of accessing key documents (sets of accounts both final and draft, tax returns, account statements, even copies of recent correspondence).   I've encountered practices that offer portals as a general 'important documents archive' for clients - storing images of passports, insurance documents and the like for on-line access in an emergency.

If clients can download stuff, then why not go one extra step and let them UPLOAD stuff?   Don't send us your tax records in the post, save electronic copies to our secure portal over the internet.  You don't have the risk, cost and delay of postage, and the transfer is encrypted so it's more secure than either snail mail or email.    Why send your Sage/Quickbooks data on a CD or flash drive when you can upload it?  (of course if you're using a cloud-based  bookkeeping system, that's not an issue!)

There's an argument that offering 'self-service' tools removes the 'personal touch' but I think I'd say that getting rid of the hassles of moving paper around leaves more time for more important things.    I'd also say that the portal gives your small business clients access to stuff they need when they need it (most small business owners  do their admin in evenings and weekends when they can't get hold of you anyway).

 

Michael Wood's picture

Self-service is a form of client service

Michael Wood | | Permalink

Following up to the points made by cverrier - I would say that self-service can definitely be an important element of service. (Please note that as a founder of Receipt Bank I could be perceived to be biased on this issue!)

At Receipt Bank, we have specialised in providing accountants and bookkeepers with a range of tools that allow their clients to submit receipts and invoices to them, e.g. email in, direct upload, iPhone app, Freepost envelopes, etc.

As we provide these tools to a significant number of firms we see how it transforms service: we see restaurant bills being submitted by iPhone directly from the restaurant, we see invoices being automatically forwarded from the clients (without any hold up in in-boxes), we see collections of travel expenses being posted in at the end of each trip. There's no question that providing 24/7 'self-service' tools changes the client's perception of both bookkeeping (it's no longer something done at the end of a month or quarter) and it can also change their perception of their accountant (he or she is helping me to manage my current, rather than historic, data).

Regards,

Michael

 

torbenhalvorsen's picture

Profitable Client Service & Workflow Management

torbenhalvorsen | | Permalink

Good client service is recognised as vital by practices as vital that we are engaged with. Deliverying good service in a profitable manner is sometimes a challenge.

This is one area where working in a PaperLess manner can certainly help. Where a client phones up the practice for access to a document this takes time from staff who may be unable to bill for the response time taken to handle the phone call and send the document.

Where a client is able to access the documents through a secure RemoteAccess application this can turn the delivery of thsis same good client service in a profitable way for the practice. Clients like this too, they have no barriers to getting hold of documents that they need, no worry of the clock ticking when they ask for support.

Workflow management is another essential part of working in a PaperLess way. From a compliance and audit perspective the work flow management routines enable practices to streamline processes and keep on track of work as it moves through the process, documenting the paperwork used at each stage of the process.

Finally turning this round on its head. When the client implements PaperLess working their accountant would be able to access their documentation and accounting transactions online, through RemoteAccess, which leads to opportunities to help advise and support clients, avoiding uncessary communications and travel times.

Phil

-- Accounting the PaperLess way™

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Advice and ideas about putting paperless processes to work within accountancy practices