The sixth annual CCH User Conference has attracted its largest ever audience, with more than 1,000 accountants braving some unseasonably cool weather in Orlando. Editor-in-Chief Gail Perry reports.
The four-day event began with a Sunday golf outing and tailgate networking party, and then got down to business Monday morning with back-to-back keynote speakers, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting CEO Kevin Robert and former Notre Dame Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz.
Key to Robert's presentation was the need for accountants to understand the needs and desires of clients and to connect with them on their level. Contrary to many presentations accountants have heard in recent years, Robert recommended not discarding the so-called C and D clients, the ones who take a lot of time and frequently haggle over the charges, "who drain your firms resources and don't bring in sufficient revenue. Me personally, I have trouble with that concept. I've always look at this as a problem with me and the business and not with the customer. So I ask myself, why can't I make that relationship work to our mutual benefit?"
Robert recommends using new technology options to turn these clients into profit centers by building an appropriate automated self-service strategy. For example, tell the client you will do the tax work, but only if the client uploads an electronic organizer and scans electronic versions of source documents, and upload to a secure portal. The accountant then does the value-added work and uploads the results for the client. The result: Minimal interaction, and successful resolution of a problem.
"As you think about your clients in today's environment, ask yourself these critical questions: What's the right mix of face-to-face client service and technology enabled self-service; and how can you better leverage new self-service technologies and opportunities to create the best full-service strategy for your firm?" Robert said.
Portals, interactive Web sites where clients and accountants can work together and share financial data in a secure cloud environment, are a key element of the training and workshop opportunities to participants in this year's conference. Robert reminded attendees of the changes in banking services that have occurred in the past decade. From standing in line to working your schedule around bankers' hours, customers were at the mercy of the banks. Now, banking is a 24/7 service, with interactive exchanges being made in an encrypted environment. Robert pointed out that, today, Bank of America alone has 13 million online banking customers.
As part of its new suite of SaaS solutions, CCH offers ProSystem fx Portal for firms. CCH explains that by providing 24/7 service, Portal offers an easy, convenient, and highly secure way for clients to access information, documents, and applications, exchange data, and share information around the clock.
"Consumers today operate at the speed of life," Robert said. "You need to ask yourself: Are you leveraging this momentum? Spend time with your clients to find out what they really want."
Results from a recent survey by Hinge, Inc. showed 85 percent of the clients of professional service firms wished their firm offered particular services that, it turns out, their firm already does offer. Robert recommends using Internet tools to survey clients and find out exactly what they want and expect from their accountant.
Robert was followed by Lou Holtz, who not surprisingly provided his audience with motivational suggestions for being a success. He started by asking, "If you didn't go home, who would miss you, and why?" And then took that concept to the workplace by asking, "If you didn't go to work, who would miss you and why?"
He encouraged his listeners to think about what things they do with their lives that make a difference, and then recommended that they go through life not as a spectator but as a participant, setting goals, developing a plan, and following through.
"Rule of life: You're either growing or you're dying," said Holtz. His recommendations for keeping a forward momentum in life focus on having a dream, explaining that people without something to hope for have no enthusiasm for life. "Everybody needs something to do, something you're passionate about."