How to Make Things Easier for Your Clients and Youby
When I think about how musicians listen to each other and adjust accordingly, I see that same attribute when an accountant coordinates with a client. Partners play the role of the conductor. A properly-run accounting firm is like an orchestra at its finest. Done well, it’s beautiful music and a fine performance to watch. In other words, it is a pleasure to hear and experience. Done poorly, it’s a waste of time and is frustrating for everyone concerned.
Are your interactions with clients so smooth that you don’t really think about it? Or do you have hiccups in the client experience?
Most of us keep track of the things we need, and it is annoying to request information repeatedly from all involved, practitioners and clients alike. Further, it can be rather irritating to redo work.
Our time is too valuable to do something over when there has not been an error. And we’d prefer not to have to resend clients' tax returns over and over.
Instead, we need to help them stay on track and stay organized. The right technology does that, just ask Bank of America and Chase. They have dramatically streamlined their organizations by helping us be self-sufficient with their digital banking apps. For example, at Bank of America, 85 percent of all deposits are now made digitally.
So, what has that done for the bank? Over the last six years, profits have skyrocketed. At the same time, headcount has dropped by 25 percent, reducing administrative costs. Further, customers have greater convenience and love using the app, and the competitors are still playing catch-up.
For business development, it is probably wise to consider the spending power of Millennials who are rapidly becoming business owners. The oldest Millennial turned 40 in 2020. They will soon make up most of the workforce.
Currently, Millennial-owned businesses' spending power exceeds $150 billion. Plus, Millennials are digital natives. But their priorities are not different from other generations according to surveys. Younger clients want to communicate electronically, securely, and easily.
According to a Bill.com survey, Millennials want more from firms. For example, 54 percent want bookkeeping services, 52 percent want strategic insight, and 31 percent desire CFO-level consulting. A big problem for some firms is that our clients are aging, turning 60+, and we need to replace them with younger clients.
Where can you find younger clients? Marketing is a key to building a younger pipeline, and proactive practice management and business development become your client hub. That’s why products like Clarity Practice Management, Canopy, and Karbon are assisting firms with growth by integrating to marketing and proposal platforms, more on that below.
Create Capacity, Make Everyone Happy
We know you can create capacity in your firm by subtracting low-value tasks and ongoing interruptions (e.g., babysitting client requests). Let’s face it, getting good people has always been a challenge, but this period may be the most difficult of all times for the accounting profession so far.
We can’t afford to waste productive time on non-productive tasks. Therefore, it is time to think differently about client communications including how we ask them to send sensitive documents and information to us.
How can we think differently about client communications if our clients insist on texting, emailing, or sending paper documents using insecure methods? While we know some client training and encouragement will be required, your efforts in this area will be rewarded by saved time, increased satisfaction, and ease of use if done correctly.
First, think about bringing all your client communications, documents, tasks, etc., into one shared space. Get your prepared by client (PBC) list off email. Gather all the documents needed for a project from a client in advance. Always focus on the security of client information. After all, you have a fiduciary duty to the client to protect their information.
Most CPAs probably do, and should, protect client information better than the client themselves. For example, clients often use Dropbox, unencrypted email, or look at confidential information in public on a phone or tablet.
I can’t tell you how many bank accounts and brokerage accounts I have accidentally seen while traveling. If done with a purpose, this is a simple way to perpetrate identity theft. Clearly, security needs to be a top priority - but there is a way to do this that makes it easy for your clients without sacrificing security.
Making things easy for your clients also creates capacity for them. What do clients want? Focus on saving time for clients, not wasting it. Your firm will operate in the background providing bundles of services.
Clients want to be notified of your results and recommendations. They do not want us wasting their time explaining the process. Clients don’t care about how we get the work done. According to Frank Stitely in his book “The Relentless CPA – A New 21st Century System for Driving Success at Tax and Accounting Firms,” clients want to avoid the complexity of our services and recommendations.
Clients prefer proactive communications, and don’t want long turnaround times, or unwanted filing extensions. However, they don’t associate their lack of action of providing documentation on a timely basis as an issue that prevents you from providing your service in an orderly fashion.
Not surprisingly, the client also doesn’t want needless meetings, phone calls, and emails. This information tells me we must make it easy for clients and make it easy for our firm at the same time.
Give Your Clients a Drop-Dead Easy Way to Work with Your Firm
How can we make the client experience with our firm simple and seamless? How can we make dealing with our firm easy?
- Pick a platform that fits your clients’ needs
- Decide on the services you’ll provide
- Build a grid with your options
Platforms expand or limit your choices. You should consider a platform that fits your clients (big/small, complex/simple) and serves your team members well.
For compliance services, firms either choose a suite of products from Wolters Kluwer, Thomson Reuters, or Drake, OR they pick products that they consider the best of breed by categories, such as TPS, Lacerte, and CaseWare.
Each of these ecosystems provides solutions for professional needs, and some are fairly complete. All struggle with making client interaction easy through their portals and other utilities included in their systems. And this bears out in low client adoption rates.
For Client Accounting Services (CAS), many have evolved from QuickBooks desktop, Sage 50 (Peachtree), or Sage 100 (MAS 90) to new systems. Once you pick one ecosystem, you should focus on that platform. The likes of QuickBooks Online, Xero, Accounting Power, and Sage Intacct all have their own ecosystems. Your service offerings to clients are critical. You can still choose to offer only tax, audit, consulting, or you can expand in CAS, Advisory, wealth management, and more.
Consider services that are required by your clients for compliance or to operate. If you do, you’ll wind up with a service that has recurring value and sticky needs. For example, sales tax, payroll, and bill payment/Accounts Payable are services that almost all businesses must have.
Further, consider services that minimize the pain to the business owner. Examples here include expense management, time entry/capture, document management, and document gathering. There are more products and services to consider adding to your mix than the examples just named.
By my best estimate, there are at least 36 services for CAS-related practices and 72 for Advisory practices. I routinely add to both lists. However, the critical service list includes what your clients want and what your team can deliver.
There are various practical guides for building a matrix or grid of service offerings and potential products to fulfill those services. You can contact others in your business circles for their approach, read reviews online, and request guides from AccountantsWorld (possibly the best free guidance), CPA.com, Intuit, K2 Enterprises, RootWorks, Woodard Group, Xero, and more. We recommend that you select three products in a category for an in-depth review, track options in a spreadsheet, and select only one product as your solution.
Tech That Helps
After you have your platform, service offering, and options, you need to choose what is best for your clients, your team, and your firm. You may not want to “follow the crowd” as outlined in the prior paragraphs. If you focus on your clients’ needs, the service offerings and products will follow.
However, make sure that you have tech that provides you leverage. Choosing a scalable, repeatable process supported by technology is crucial to your success.
If you focus on the client experience, you may determine that a payment system like Corpay One or QuickFee fits your clients’ needs and your firm’s style of payment automation from your clients. I like firms to “drink their own champagne,” in other words, if it is practical, to use the same products for the firm as they use with their clients. Besides, champagne seems far more attractive than the old phrase describing this technique of “eating your own dog food.” But don’t make a dog’s breakfast of your tools, either.
Be thoughtful about each tool selection and be slow to change client-facing technology unless you know there will be a long-lasting benefit. On the other hand, tools that are almost entirely internal tools can be switched more readily.
For example, a product like Karbon for practice management and configurable workflows mainly affects your internal team members. Good practice management platforms monitor and promote business development activities. Many practice management systems integrate to and automate marketing with products like HubSpot, Mail Chimp, Client Sense, GoProposal, PandaDoc, Proposify, and Practice Ignition.
But you should carefully consider external, client-facing tools like SmartVault for document storage or Hubdoc for document retrieval. Clients will frequently touch these tools, and their client experience is affected by their technology experience.
Speaking of client experience, tools like Liscio integrating PBC (Prepared by Client) requests via email, portal, or text on a mobile device or in a browser provide an exceptional client experience. Visibility by your entire team of all documents, requests, and communications is a crucial benefit of the Liscio platform, not to mention the intense focus on security while providing an easy-to-use experience.
A Great Client Experience
Technology experience has certainly changed as we moved from character-based systems to graphical-based systems to cloud and mobile systems. However, it took developers a while to understand how to create a great experience, and many systems are still clunky to use, ugly, and not intuitive.
If you are trying to create a better, modern, and easy Client Experience, you must choose modern tools that are also mobile-enabled. For example, Client Experience 2.0 (CX2.0) firms do NOT spend 40 percent of their time gathering client documents.
Instead, CX2.0 firms help clients stay organized and self-sufficient. CX2.0 firms put everything clients need at their fingertips. A single source of truth is created for the staff, as all client communications, documents, tasks and notes all come into one secure shared space for teams to collaborate on. No more chasing clients, no more searching for information that staff need. As a result, everyone moves faster, securely, and with less friction.
Faster, easier, and better is what CX2.0 is all about. If you can achieve a better Client Experience through all your tools, that will make it easy for your clients, your team, and you. So, how do you plan to invest those extra hours?
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Randy Johnston is a nationally recognized educator, consultant, and writer with over 40 years experience in Strategic Technology Planning, Accounting Software Selection, Paperless, Systems and Network Integration, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning, Business Development and Management, Process Engineering and outsourced managed...