We all strive to ensure that clients all have an amazing client service and overall client experience. However, do we ever consider their digital experience?
We are all aware that more and more businesses are looking to adopt technology with many moving to digital accounting platforms. There is also an increased adoption of the apps that then go along with this software as they strive to create a more automated and streamlined finance solution.
We, as accountants, also aim to ensure that the client has a smooth and slick technology focused service which starts with the onboarding through to the provision of monthly management accounts and year end accounts. However, do we ever sit back and think about our clients' digital experience and what makes a good digital experience?
Processes are key
When we provide our clients with technology-based services, the first things to consider are our internal processes. It is essential that we review and improve these where necessary and then ensure all our clients follow the same processes and that these processes are clearly documented and communicated with our staff.
We cannot easily scale up if we have different processes for each client as this causes confusion both within our team and with the client. This, in turn, leads to a poor client experience and hence must be avoided.
Always train your team
To provide a superior digital experience to your clients, it is essential that your team are trained on the technology. This extends beyond just the accounting tools and their training must include your practice management suite and the communication tools that are used within your firm. Also ensure that you and your team keep up to date with new software features and that this information is passed on to your clients.
If your team doesn't know how to use the technology, this will lead to inefficiencies and errors. Also, if your client is expecting you to be technology gurus, having a team that do not know how the technology works will lead to poor client experience.
The power of automation
We all know that automation equals efficiency. Direct integrations and apps such as Zapier allow us to save time and to streamline operations so providing an overall more effective and efficient service.
Onboarding is a common area where accountants use automation to reduce the manual processes needed when taking on a new client. For example, we can integrate systems so that when a proposal is accepted, the client is set up in the practice management software automatically and the direct debit mandate is created too. At the same time, we can send messages to the team to alert them that the client has accepted the proposal and we can send an automated email to the client to welcome them on board.
This automation is great with regards to the time savings made and also the client thinks we are on the ball as they have quickly had communication from us to say we are ready to start working with them. This is a super slick and streamlined digital experience! However, whilst digital is great, we need to remember the human touch. We are starting out on our journey with this new client and we need to get to know them and we need to question if having a fully automated process with no human contact will achieve this goal.
Consider including a welcome phone call and a personalised welcome pack to add a human touch to the process and that will really improve the digital experience for your new client.
Client needs and desires
Digital finance systems often allow us to provide our clients with a much wider range of real time information than previously. Information on key metrics, payment profiles and employee spend is all available and this can be reported back to our clients.
However, it is important to establish what a client needs and wants at the outset and then ensure that you keep checking with them in the future in case their needs change. Some clients like to have more information than others and what you think may be relevant to them may not be something that they want to monitor. It is dangerous to assume what they need!
It is also important to make sure you do not try a 'one size fits all' approach. To provide an excellent digital experience it is important to tailor the information you provide to their specific needs.
It is important to set out exactly how you work with your clients so that they know what to expect from the outset and also to ask them their preferences. This includes how you communicate with them, how they should contact you and how you will request information from them using technology based tools.
Your way could be very different from how the clients dealt with their last accountant so it is important you not only make them aware of the communication channels but also explain to them how they work, how they are accessed and if they are happy to use them.
There are many options available beyond just email including tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Some of these may be totally new to your clients so you will need to take the time to implement these with them and help them get used to how the tools work and how you will use them.
Also consider what information you want on these different channels. For example, Xero Ask is a good option for providing Xero bookkeeping information and a secure document portal is a possible choice where clients can upload tax return details. However, we need to think about how many of these communication channels are used and the overall digital experience we are creating. Bombarding the clients with a lot of different options may lead to confusion so care is needed.
Also the frequency of communications and expected turnaround times are something you should set with your clients. Always ensure that these are achievable targets and that you do not over promise or the client experience will be impacted.
Setting all this out with your clients from the outset will ensure that they know what they can expect and this really improves the experience that they have with your firm.
Providing superior insights
Another benefit of a digital finance solution is the provision of insightful information to your client. It is possible to really drill down into the data, to pull information from many sources and then use this to provide your client with more detailed reports and insights than you could before using the digital solutions.
However, you need to ensure that the information is delivered to your client in the right format for that particular client. For example, do they prefer visual data or text, graphs or tables and do they want monthly comparisons to budget, forecast and prior year results or a more simple report?
Establishing the format and detail required is critical to ensure a great client experience. Get it wrong and the client could end up confused about their performance and will feel undervalued.
Remember to follow up
Never forget to follow up with the client for feedback and so establish if their needs have changed. Make sure you maintain the human element to your services throughout so picking up the phone or setting up a Zoom call where you see one another really helps to build a good client relationship.
Follow up is also important to both the firm and the team as this will allow you to identify where you can make improvements and identify areas where some team members may need extra support and areas where they excel.
The growth of digital technology within the accountancy profession has led to the provision of new information to clients and also the provision of information through different channels. Whilst we may see this as a benefit as we can deliver so much more than before, we still need to make sure that we consider the client and their digital experience. Consult with your clients regularly to make sure you are meeting their needs and also to maintain that human touch as this is still essential regardless of the automated alternatives.
Caroline Harridence – Editor, Digital Accountancy magazine