Client Experience for Today and Tomorrow – Ten Ideas for Your Playbook

From the December 2021 Issue.

A new year means a fresh start. This year’s columns on Client Experience have influenced my thinking about how important Client Experience is every day. Considering the impact of Client Experience, Team Member experience, and partner experience, including bottom-line profitability, has been a theme for me this year and many years in the past and into the future. We’ll get to our predictions and recommendations for the coming year in a moment. Note that each recommendation has an experience component.

As you think about your firm’s experience for tomorrow, how will you leverage your “own”ership in the process? Even without shares or investment, we each own responsibility for ourselves and our clients. We choose and can influence our own situation. I suspect that people who don’t feel empowered by their current employment situation are more likely to make a change now than we have seen at any time in the past. I also suspect your clients may be more prone to change if they do not receive the service levels they want from you and your firm.

You have much to do since you work in public practice. But I want you to work smarter, not harder. The following technologies and strategies may help you clear your head and give you some ideas before diving into the busy season again.

Key Technologies and Strategies to Consider

This year’s conference season ended recently with the major publishers of Wolters Kluwer/CCH, Thomson Reuters, and Intuit holding events. Significant strategic announcements were thin. Scaling New Heights, Digital CPA, and AICPA Engage 2021 also started transitioning back to normal. Other trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and accounting software conferences are likely to resume to full events this coming year. The sales pitches were heavy at every event I attended. Maybe your experience was different, or perhaps you didn’t participate in any national events. Besides, aren’t we better off choosing the best way for our clients and ourselves rather than being told about a product that doesn’t live up to its’ reputation or sold a path to follow that isn’t mainstream later?

Here’s where I’d like to know your exact situation because I would customize my advice for the new year based on your precise needs rather than these general trends. However, you can use these recommendations as a scorecard for your firm. If you have already implemented one or more of these recommendations, then you are ahead of the curve. Hopefully, some of my recommendations make it to your list for consideration. So, what’s in the lineup of technologies and strategies?

  1. Initial testing and rollout of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools – While most of these products still need improvement, they are beginning to work. We need leverage for our labor and for everything we do in our firms. While automation won’t replace professional labor anytime soon, tools like Vic.Ai will help. In the meantime, outsourcing labor to Xpitax or Taxfyle may be your best hope.
  2. Service offerings that fit your firm and clients – your firm can be in Client Accounting Services (CAS), Advisory, Wealth Management, and a variety of other services, or not. That’s your choice. But genuine advisory services provide tremendous client value, and firms providing CAS services frequently see the opportunities to assist clients first. We know that the Complete Advisory Solution can give the proper framework for an Advisory practice. Speaking of Advisory services, remember that Corvee has an excellent capability to do Tax Advisory services accommodating the changing tax law proactively, as I pointed out in my June column Client Experience for Today – Personal Tax Advisory. Further, CAS stacks need review, updating, and continuously optimizing, as I pointed out in my July Client Experience for Today – Do You Have a Clear CAAS Vision? and October Client Experience for Today – Leveraging Payroll columns. Finally, tasks like payments should be considered with products like Corpay One, QuickFee, and Bill.com. We have provided Advisory and CAS guidance throughout the year in other columns, and you can rest assured that we’ll keep watch on this critical area.
  3. Better document management – this might be accomplished with an updated document management system (DMS) like Doc.It, SmartVault, or through implementing Microsoft Teams/SharePoint in a structured fashion. Watch for more guidance from this column in the future on the importance of implementing a new generation DMS. Again, DIY can be used, but document management and workflow need to be cloudified to support effective remote work and collaboration. A suitable DMS is the first step to enabling a good team experience.
  4. Centralized Computing (Citrix Private Cloud or hosting from vendors like Cetrom) OR a complete Software as a Service (runs in a browser) implementation for remote access – the pandemic made remote access invaluable, and remote work is here to stay. If you are still tied to an office or a single computer because “that’s where all the files are,” this is the second step to enable team experience. More tools can be found on our Cloud Computing reference at CPA Firm Technology.
  5. Improved Prepared by Client (PBC) document retrieval and delivery – this area is one of the first steps to better client experience. Tools like Liscio and Suralink lead the way for firms today, while others such as SafeSend, CCH Axcess Client Collaboration, and Onvio Firm Management are improving.
  6. Better tracking and workflow – I’m amazed how many firms still use whiteboards, spreadsheets, or filing cabinets & shelves with projects on them to manage work. We considered the last decade the time to implement workflow. If you are using checklists, you may have an opportunity to optimize your firm even more with process review and workflow tools such as CCH XCM Axcess, FirmFlow, Avii, Reckon APS, or Doc.It. In addition, small firms might consider the workflow embedded in lower-end practice management tools below.
  7. The right practice management for visibility – This may be the ideal time to consider upgrading and modernizing your practice management system. You can stay the course as a Suite buyer, where all your products come from Wolters Kluwer, Thomson Reuters, or Drake. Alternatively, you will likely find success with Clarity Practice Management, Canopy Practice Management, TPS Cloud Axis, Financial Cents, and Karbon, also available as Intuit’s OEM ProConnect Practice Management.
  8. Improved reporting – Even after you’ve upgraded your Practice Management system or your client’s CAS systems, the reporting available is frequently not what you need. While there are hundreds of tools available, there is no silver bullet that solves all issues. However, each of these tools has a unique capability that we have covered in other columns. Consider Path by Simplex Financials, Reach Reporting, LivePlan, Fathom, Spotlight Reporting, Helix Reports, Jirav, and Zoho Analytics.
  9. The right hardware – While the last few years have seen many chip shortages, desktop and laptop sales were up 300%, according to recent reports in The Economist. Vendors selling these products had their best year in some time. Our computer recommendations for this year include Windows 10, Microsoft 365, Intel Core i5-i9 or AMD Ryzen 5-9, dedicated graphics, 16-32GB of RAM, 128GB-1TB of NVM Express Solid-State drive (NVMe SSD), USB 3.1, and HDMI 2.1. Choosing the suitable processor for an accounting firm load (even if you are in the cloud) is essential. For you, the right CPU is probably an AMD Ryzen 9 5950x or an Intel i7 11370H, although these may be hard to find. Further, Fujitsu upgraded scanners notably this year with the ScanSnap ix1600, fi-800R, and fi-7300NX. Our favorite new monitor of the year is the ViewSonic TD1655 15.6” portable USB-C touch monitor or the non-touch version VG1655. Big monitors seem to be readily available, and you are probably safe with any of the Dell, HP, Lenovo, or LG large monitors. When Windows 11 is stable after tax season, you’ll see the new capabilities of Windows 11 using large monitors. However, all the major publishers have warned to NOT upgrade to Windows 11 until after April 15.
  10. The right frame of mind – I’m no psychologist, but I can see many of you are tired when I teach CPE. I can hear it in your voice when we talk on the phone. We are close to another tough tax season, and we must take care of ourselves and our team members. Evaluate what is working and what is not – critically. Are you usually in a reactive mode? What is the root cause? Where are you spending your time right now? What assets do you have that you can leverage? (Staff, systems, processes, etc.). Focus on incremental improvements that add to your enjoyment of your practice and make space for you to have a better life. Dream big – plan the next five years in your firm. Don’t neglect your personal life as well – add time on your calendar to focus on what’s most important in your life (family, friends, personal growth, fitness, etc.)

That seems like a tall order!

It is. But you have “own”ership in you! Take the time to be thoughtful about what you need to accomplish in the coming year and what needs to happen in your firm. We’ll keep an eye on announcements that will affect your clients, your firm, and you from software and hardware publishers. We will also include specific guidance in our weekly podcast, The Technology Lab, which provides background on various products. I’m asking you to focus on your clients, your team, your firm, and you because that is where you have the most control.

Most CPAs I know are incredibly smart, hard-working, have high integrity, and genuinely care about their clients. While these attributes result in a lot of hard work, the rewards continue to be great. We want you to have the resiliency and stamina without burnout so that you can do what you love for many years into the future. The holiday season and the new year is a great time to reflect on that. So, what can you do for your clients, your team, your firm, and yourself that will positively impact today and tomorrow?

 

https://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/firm-management/article/21245965/client-experience-for-today-and-tomorrow-ten-ideas-for-your-playbook