As digitalisation transforms almost every aspect of the profession, July’s Accounting Excellence panel demonstrates how the client is now more than ever “at the heart of what you do”.
Client service has always been a priority for accountants. But as the Accounting Excellence data shows, the digital age has evolved the way firms deliver client service. In July’s Accounting Excellence Talks (now available on-demand), Simon Kallu (Growth Factor), Nikki Adams (Ad Valorem) and Mike Phillips (Receipt Bank) discussed the tools, techniques and processes that they have used or seen to drive excellent client service.
Value that accountants can add
A key discussion emerging out of Accounting Excellence Talks concerned the ubiquitous phrases ‘trusted adviser’ and ‘advisory practice’.
Many firms, including those on the Accounting Excellence Talks panel, have pivoted towards an advisory approach. This deviates from the narrative that accounting tech is the death knell for human interaction. As Ad Valorem's Adams said: “I think in the digital age, client service has to be more human. Every touchpoint with them has to be personal, they have to feel that you care about them and that you're considering their needs.”
She added: “If it's all online and you don't talk to that client, then how are you going to get that trusted adviser status?”
How to bring added value services to your firm
But while much has been written about trusted adviser and advisory services, what these phrases actually mean in practice still remain sketchy for many accountants.
For Growth Factor’s Simon Kallu, you can learn better client service and value-add from researching different industries. “If you go to a restaurant and the service is amazing, why was it amazing? What was the touch? What made it different than going to a standard restaurant? What was the value?” asked Kallu.
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So how can accounting firms bring these buzzwords to life and deliver a tangible service to their clients? Kallu has developed a performance plan as a value-added service that his firm conducts with every client – from a sole trader to a virtual CFO client - no matter their size. The “vision process” establishes the client’s three to five-year goals and any roadblocks that would prevent them from achieving it. Kallu then uses forecasting software like Spotlight or Futrli to report the client’s actual progress against the plan.
'How to deliver better client service in the digital age' is now available on-demand. Click here to watch
“If you haven't got a yardstick to measure performance against, how do they even know that they're performing well or not so well. In that sense, it adds a lot of value because it gives them clarity about where they're going.”
These meetings bring accountability. “As a minimum, even for a tiny client, every 90 days we'll have a conversation with them and ask them whether they have achieved those goals and then we'll reset the goals.”
Elsewhere, Ad Valorem’s Adams explained how her firm runs monthly tech drop-in sessions. This was borne out of the firm’s ‘millennial team' drive to increase cloud uptake within the business. Having that extra support has taken the fear factor away from non-tech savvy clients. “If they've got an iPhone they can use an app and with Receipt Bank the process is easy,” she explained.
Are these services profitable?
However, the hurdle in providing such services is pricing and justifying the chargeable time these services take to deliver. But Kallu and Adams look more at these events as a future business generator, rather than something where the profits are immediate.
“It is an opportunity to find out what the client needs and as they grow and if you can help them grow, your fee levels will grow with that client,” argued Kallu. “And you're just getting them there sooner with your expertise.”
He added: “If you've got a prospect and they're interested in your services you'd have a coffee with them for an hour. But a lot of the time accountants wouldn't sit with their own clients for an hour and they're the hottest prospects.”
Adams, too, is a proponent of client service above immediate revenue. Ad Valorem’s monthly tech training sessions are not time-sheet based and are available to all clients. “[The tech team] block out the day and a client would book in a time to come and see them. That's great because the client feels they are getting that one-to-one,” said Adams. This added service, in turn, translates into referrals, raving fans and like Kallu, the client grows too.
“If you ask a client what we should be doing they'll say 'our accounts'. If we give them what they want and we do it well they will pay more for that valuable service,” said Adams.
More client service tips and tricks are to be found in the 60 minute Accounting Excellence Talks webcast, which is now available on-demand.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.