Almost overnight, mobile devices, the cloud and social media have created massive changes in consumer behavior and expectations. With the surge of user-friendly conveniences like Amazon® same-day delivery, Apple Pay™ and Uber, there is no question that today’s consumers are constantly connected, community-oriented, and design-conscious—not to mention impatient. Not only do these consumer behaviors describe our clients and prospective clients, they describe each one of us. Because we are all part of this tremendous shift in behavior, it is time to ask ourselves whether, as accountants, we are keeping pace.
All of us draw conclusions based on perceptions. If clients or prospects perceive that your firm is stuck in the past (practices that were common only four or five years ago look ancient to most of us consumers today), they may question whether your firm can service them in today’s fast-paced world.
On the other hand, there are huge opportunities for accounting firms that embrace strategies to meet today’s consumer expectations, especially when it comes to technology and client experience. The new consumer wants more than just after-the-fact reporting and compliance work. They want advice and assistance in driving their businesses and financial results. They also want convenience, simplicity and great design.
So what can accounting firms do to meet this demand? The answer lies in fully embracing technology and using it not only to provide more efficient service, but far better service. Client experience is probably the most significant differentiator for accounting firms today. All firms can provide typical compliance, advisory services and financial reporting, but HOW it is done can be the key to future growth. You can use the cloud in your day-to-day work, offer mobile services for clients, engage in social networks—immerse yourself in the latest technology and use it to your advantage. Here’s how.
Through cloud technology, you can enable your clients to view and update their own data online at any time—a convenience that is imperative for today’s consumer. You can exchange documents, access software, and convey information through personal client portals accessed via a secure link on your firm’s website or a mobile application. Through mobile push notifications, you can instantly alert clients when documents are delivered, when the status of services change, or when tasks need to be completed. Clients are used to—and expect—this type of service because they experience it every day through online banking, general exchange of money, even in healthcare with physicians and medical centers. How many of us can even remember when we went to a bank to personally deposit a check?
You also can make services like e-filing simple and straightforward with a user-friendly interface that allows clients to view their potential return, sign the form 8879 and receive acknowledgement, all via their mobile device. Additional functionality like expense tracking by capturing receipt images via mobile device cameras, mileage tracking using GPS, and convenient document scanning through a mobile device camera all make your firm more attractive to today’s client, who sees these conveniences elsewhere, and expects them from their accountant, as well.
Providing clients with the ability to offer their employees a way to enter time, view paycheck stubs, and make changes to W-2s and W-4s on their mobile device is another differentiating convenience that can set your firm apart from the rest. In a related vein, you can leverage technology to improve the staff experience at your firm by using cloud and mobile technology in your day-to-day processes. Offering staff conveniences that can help them serve clients better while they are on the go, like access to historical client information and project tracking via a mobile app, makes your firm a more appealing place to work.
Key to offering these conveniences is choosing a trusted technology provider who understands the importance of the client experience. We all know that a clean, easy-to-use design drives our decisions on what apps we use on our smartphones, so make sure your technology provider can deliver an interface that makes your online interactions with clients simple and convenient.
Remaining relevant in the accounting profession is a continuous process. If you are agile enough to offer your clients services in a way that aligns with current consumer behavior, you will meet (and hopefully exceed) client expectations and also build a foundation for increased productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness for your firm for years to come.