Make Better Use of Technology and Resources
Now that we have made it through the initial disruption of the pandemic and the tax season filing deadlines, smart firms will examine what they’ve learned over the past six months and use it to find new opportunities for transformation and growth.
Liz Scott, Advanced Certified QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor and accounting professional technology consultant, co-authored this article.
As a profession, we have learned so much during this year about managing our remote workforce, rethinking the scope and delivery of our services and about new and new-to-us resources and tools that have helped us transition and adapt.
There is no arguing that established, virtual firms had a leg up on the competition. They were able to immediately focus on their clients’ needs first, without the distraction of trying to figure out how to adapt their team, systems, and processes to this new virtual reality.
Their experience made them a valuable resource, not only to their clients but to other firms and new clients grappling to find their way and stay afloat. Although it may seem that we have made it through the initial part of the crisis, we still have a long road ahead of us.
Now is the time for firms to seek out resources and implement tools to bolster team engagement and streamline client processes and communication. Lucky for us, there are tons of resources and innovative ways for us to adapt to this disruption and find opportunities in it!
Promote Team Engagement
Staying connected and engaged with your team is a real challenge in a virtual firm. Fortunately, there are tools and resources to help stay organized, on-task, and in touch with the rest of the team. Even better, many of these tools are included in the business management software suites of apps your firm already uses and are relatively easy to set up and implement.
Microsoft Teams: If your firm uses Microsoft Office, you likely already have a license to use Microsoft Teams, a communication app that provides a secure platform where you and your staff can chat, do video calls, share files, links and other information and stay connected throughout the day without getting trapped in your email.
Google Hangouts and Groups: If you’re a G-Suite user, you’ve got Google Hangouts and Groups, which provide similar functionality and are fully integrated with Google Calendar and Gmail.
Slack: Not using Microsoft or Google, no problem. Slack was the original communication platform and provided customizable workspaces where you can chat, share files, and make video or voice calls. Each workspace can have multiple channels to keep communications around specific topics in one place and has impressive search functionality.
All three of these platforms integrate with hundreds of other apps, both directly and through automation platforms like Zapier and Microsoft Power Automate giving you the flexibility to create custom firm-wide notifications and workflows to keep everyone up to speed feels included.
Reinvent Your Client Experience
The most impactful change we’ve experienced during the pandemic is the loss of in-person meetings. Social distancing has been difficult for all of us to get used to and nothing can truly replace actual human interaction and contact. It’s no surprise that Zoom's stock is through the roof (hopefully, you were one of those who got in early!) and everyone is using it.
The reality is that our clients have a wide range of technical aptitudes, and what may seem simple and easy to use to some can seem overwhelming and difficult to others. It’s up to us to design a client experience that is as easy as possible and makes our clients feel comfortable. One way to do this is by proactively communicating your expectations and providing support to help them acclimate.
During the first few weeks of the pandemic last spring, my firm offered weekly Zoom tutorial meetings to help clients feel comfortable joining and participating in meets. Creating tutorial videos can be helpful and are a huge time-saver in the coaching process.
Ways you can help your clients feel comfortable using technology to communicate with you include:
- Creating both a written and a visual guide to share with your clients before they join a meeting (Loom or CloudApp are both great options for sharing videos)
- Be patient and have screenshots of their experience ready and on hand to help
- Allow extra time for technical difficulties during each meeting. We use the Google Calendar settings to add a 10-minute buffer between appointments.
- Offer online training webinars (or virtual lunch and learn sessions) where you introduce new technology and processes to your clients and record them so you can share the video with them to review afterward.
Streamline Your Processes
After reading that last section, I bet you are thinking to yourself: “Heather, this sounds great, but I don’t have time to coddle my clients. I have so much work to do!” And you’re right, but that’s where automation comes in.
By taking the time upfront to set up automated processes and templates, you can provide superior service without much on-going effort. Below is a list of easy to implement automation you can set up now to help you stay on track during the busy season while still delivering stellar service to your clients:
1. Create canned email templates for frequently asked questions and requests. Our firm has an entire library of canned email templates for almost everything. These templates allow our team to respond to a client’s need without spending valuable time recreating the wheel every time quickly.
Some examples include instructions on adding us to their accounting software, how to access our DMS system and reset their password, requests for Forms W-9, and W-4 with a secure upload link, letters related to various bookkeeping and tax questions.
2. Create predefined folder templates for your document management software. Using a standardized folder structure for all your clients just makes sense. It makes it easier to find documents when all your clients have the same structure.
You can create folder templates in ANY document management system and then copy them whenever you onboard a new client. Create a parent folder, then add empty subfolders to develop the structure that makes sense for your firm. Taking 15 minutes to complete the blank template will save you 15 minutes each time you onboard a new client. What would you do with an extra 15 minutes?
3. Utilize templates and other resources from your associations and partners. Did you know that many associations and apps provide free or low-cost templates designed specifically for accounting professionals? Yep, the AICPA has a whole library of free letter templates and workflow templates available to their members.
Some of these resources are available to all members, and some are only available to members who purchase specific sections, like tax or not-for-profit. These sections cost a couple of hundred dollars a year but can save you hours of time and effort when looking to provide information or create letters. ADP provides free letter templates via their Accountant Connect platform and their partnership with CCH, along with a free subscription to Intelliforms.
The 2020 pandemic has changed the way we do business, I believe, forever. Our clients depend on us to lead the way. I hope these tips and tools will make your journey just a bit easier. Remember, we’re all in this together.
Want to learn more practical tips for your practice? Join Heather on Wednesday Oct. 21 at 12p EDT for a FREE hr of CPE as she and ADP present 5 Steps to Standardizing Your Firm's Internal Processes in a Virtual World.
Heather is owner of Satterley Training & Consulting LLC, a firm dedicated to helping accounting professionals gain the skills and confidence to explore and adopt new accounting technology. She is also an Intuit Certified QuickBooks Pro Advisor.