How can I communicate with you? What records must I keep? How do I send my bills over?
If you’re an accountant at a small and midsize business (SMB) or run your independent service, you’ve probably had these conversations with your clients or departments within your organization.
To be a smart accounting firm, you must understand how the right accounting software can help enhance customer experience. It means using technology to maintain your books better, offering in-depth financial reporting, and saving time to provide complimentary advisory services to your clients.
Customer experience is vital to enhance the loyalty of existing customers and attract new leads. A study shows that 96% of customers will consider leaving after just one poor experience. Besides receiving quality work on time, customers also expect accounting services to be delivered in a convenient, well thought, and professional manner.
In this article, we look at how technology can help your accounting business reduce the drain on time-consuming, low-value jobs; systematize communications; automate workflows; and better manage customer relationships—in the same breadth.
1. Automate client onboarding
Onboarding is the founding stone of a new relationship. Yet, many aspects of it will be the same for every client. Create a system that automates repetitive tasks and, in turn, gives your teams more time to better understand unique customer needs.
Here are some technology tips to ease client onboarding:
- Start with a welcome email, and then send an automated engagement document that lists “what comes next” for new clients. Send this document to your team as well to notify them about the new client and get the ball rolling on their account.
- Appoint a team of accounting and onboarding experts for new accounts. This will help foster trust between the client and your team.
- Provide dedicated communication and document sharing platforms to let clients approach you any time they need assistance.
- Create PDFs, template emails, and how-to videos to introduce your clients to your accounting technology stack and workflows.
2. Digitize manual accounting processes
Many accountants still handle various finance and accounting tasks in spreadsheets. That doesn’t sync well with the new generation of clients who find dealing with paper submissions or searching for missed emails time-consuming and—not to mention—annoying.
Use digitization to make your accounting processes trouble-free and run like clockwork. Here are a few tips to help automate manual workflows using technology:
- Adopt accounting tools to power front- and back-office operations.
- Make billing, invoicing, and file sharing client-friendly by using accounting and collaboration software.
- Set expectations within your team on the estimated time it will take to fully learn about a new technology and implement it in-house. Also, apprise your existing clients of the same. Talk to your technology vendor to reach a precise estimate.
3. Be available on multiple communication channels
You’ll have to frequently interact with clients to discuss their private financial details. Maintain smooth communication by creating an “always-on” brand that’s easy to reach and safe to work with.
Here are some tips to use technology to become sleeker in your communications:
- Leverage conversational AI (chatbots) and communication platforms to provide 24/7 customer service or allow clients to record their queries anytime, anywhere. Attend all customer inquiries immediately or at least within 24 hours.
- Add an FAQ section on your website, giving answers to all basic questions. Doing that will help your clients find most answers on their own before reaching out to you for help.
- Have a mobile app to give clients more control over communication, their accounting books, and financial reports.
- To begin with, invest in accounting software that offers free call support functionality to give your clients better customer service.
4. Generate revenue forecasts
Customers love extra perks. These not only enhance the overall customer experience strategy but also demonstrate the value of your expertise. Besides providing regular accounting services, contribute to your clients’ strategic understanding by offering insights into their accounting data via sales or revenue forecasts.
A futuristic view into their company operations will empower your clients to make informed decisions and targeted improvements. Here are some key considerations to make when providing forecasting services:
- Use forecasting software tools to analyze clients’ business performance based on historical and current trends.
- Decide on the scope and frequency of your forecasts—quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly—and stick to it by generating projections on time.
- Send your forecasts as a templated email or mobile report.
- Take customer feedback on what they would like you to measure in future forecasts: sales, costs, revenue, or anything else.
5. Prepare financial reports
According to Software Advice’s 2019 Accounting Trends survey, financial reporting is the most requested software feature among clients. Businesses typically need three types of financial reports from accounting: cash flow statement, income statement, and balance sheet. Use technology to create financial reports and add more value to your clients.
Here are some technology tips to use:
- Make the process of generating financial statements simple with automation tools such as financial reporting software.
- Don’t wait till the tax season to prepare and present financial information. Stay a step ahead of the curve by rolling out monthly, half-yearly, or yearly financial reports to help management in decision-making.
- Generate two sets of financial reports: internal and external. Former for distribution within the company, and latter for distribution to agencies outside your organization.
- Give clients an analysis of these financial reports, which may be difficult for them to make sense of. In these reports, highlight key takeaways for the client companies, action steps, and recommendations.
6. Give a 360-degree view of spending and earning
Take traditional accounting services a notch above by conducting cost and revenue management for your clients. More insights into cost and revenue will directly contribute to management understanding how to optimize the cost of running their business: a persistent pain point for SMBs.
Some tips to provide your clients working insights into cost and revenue management:
- Use information such as payroll and other expenses to suggest where to cut costs or adjust budgets.
- Use business intelligence tools to conduct costing and revenue analysis. Deploy different models such as activity-based costing or total cost of ownership to find out various factors contributing to each.
- Analyze costs and revenue vis-à-vis your client’s product lines, initiatives, and departments.
7. Present data visually
Discovering patterns becomes easier when data is displayed via colors, shapes, and graphics. Use technology to help clients visualize and extract useful information underlying their finances. Here are some tips to make data visualization tools part of your accounting skill sets:
- Make your budget, forecasts, and financial statements more interesting by using interactive dashboards.
- Go beyond basic bar charts to represent data. Chart visualizations use well-thought metrics such as representing growth in product lines against their margins.
- Tailor your visualizations to the audience. Keep in mind the department and people reading your report, and select representations accordingly.
8. Improve compliance with global regulations
Your clients need your help to fight compliance risks. As businesses operate in international waters, help clients globalize their accounting practices too. It means ensuring they follow global regulations by accommodating different accounting norms and methodologies.
Here are a few ways technology can help you achieve that:
- Set common operating standards across borders as you adhere to local rules and laws.
- Overcome language barriers using translation services to understand regional rules.
- Employ accounting software with compliance management features to monitor changes in local accounting laws and regulations.
Focus on boosting the customer experience
And there you have it, a few ways technology and digital transformation can help your accounting business provide a personalized experience to customers. What now?
If you are looking to work on your accounting processes to elevate customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, start with these steps:
- Collect feedback from customers. Before you work on delivering services in a manner that clients will like, learn where you stand. Send surveys to your existing customers to determine the likelihood of them recommending your services and identify their dissatisfaction areas.
- Choose the best-fit accounting software. While some accounting software tools have become household names, it doesn’t mean they should be a go-to software for you as well. Look for alternatives that are within your budget and also address your needs.
- Invest in the right integrations. Create a technology stack by introducing software integrations for easy file sharing, invoicing, and billing, among others. Ensure you can use these ancillary software tools with your primary accounting software such that they blend seamlessly and increase the fluidity of information instead of hindering it.