How many times a week does your staff receive urgent inquiries from clients asking for something that they should (or could) already have access to themselves? With a trend towards focusing more on client satisfaction, our first instinct is to oblige their requests and move on with our day.
Interruptions like these not only have a negative effect on staff productivity but also leave clients waiting until you respond. In my 12 years of working closely with accountants, all too often I hear them saying that clients don’t have, or want access to critical systems and resources which establishes the expectation that the only way to get information is to request it for the accountant.
Many of you have heard me say before: “As accounting professionals and trusted advisors, our clients should be able to depend on us, not be dependant on us.” What this means is that we should encourage client self-service and empower clients with the necessary resources and skills needed to effectively access and utilize the information. When clients have access to the resources they need, accountants won’t have to spend time fulfilling repetitive information requests. Breaking out of this cycle allows accountants to deliver higher value services to clients, creating a positive client experience and setting your firm in high esteem.
For those of you that are worried about “empty nest syndrome” (client’s not needing you anymore), empowering clients (like teaching kids life skills) makes them appreciate you and value your expertise even more.
Accessibility is Key
The key to client empowerment is ease of access and training. If clients don’t know where and how to access information, they are more likely going to take the easy road and ask someone else – that someone else being their accountant. Sending forms or reports as email attachments may seem like the best idea, but what if the client deletes the email or can’t remember where they saved the attachment?
With the increased use of third party apps to process client work, accessing information within the systems can also be overwhelming and confusing for clients. Even if they know where the information can be found, knowing how to effectively find it within the system and understand it creates another level of complexity.
Making Accessibility Easy
Documents and Files
Using a cloud based document storage solutions provides a collaborative environment and allows you to retain version control of shared resources. When using a cloud based document storage solutions such as Dropbox, Box, or SmartVault, make sure to set up a shared folder structure and clear naming conventions to make it easier for clients to find what they need. Help clients to download and install related desktop applications and make sure they know how to access them. Encourage clients to use these systems for storing their own files, but set clear boundaries or controls to eliminate them from making changes or adding items to the shared folder structure.
Transaction Information and Reports
Real-time information related to financial transactions is best found within the systems used for recording. As an example, if you use Bill.com to manage accounts payable and a client needs to know if a bill payment was received by the vendor, they should know how and where to find the details within that system.
Provide a comprehensive list or map of the accounting ecosystem and includes access to the following:
- List of apps used and their primary function
- Web addresses to access each app
- Secure way for client to store and access their own user credentials
- Written instructions for navigating and accessing general information or reports
Many of the most popular SaaS apps allow you to create or assign users permission that can limit access. Providing your clients with limited permissions helps to mitigate the potential for unwanted adds, edits, or deletions.
How to understand the information
Once clients can access information and know how to navigate the system, they should know how to apply that information practically. Provide links to already existing resources, or if necessary, create resources yourself. Webinars, written articles, or how-to videos are great examples of how to deliver information.
The Benefits of Empowerment
Client experience is all about creating a nurturing, collaborative relationship between the accountant and the client. Using a client collaboration system such as Client Hub makes it easy to empower clients with access to the web-based apps, login credentials, resources, and training materials.
Empowered clients demand less time from your staff, reduces distractions, and makes your firm more productive and profitable. Investing time into creating a collaborative environment and empowering clients with access and understanding will provide exceptional value and a positive experience for clients.