[IMGCAP(1)]You’re an exceptional accounting firm. You deliver high-quality service, operate efficiently and keep information up-to-date and scrupulously accurate. And yet in spite of the immense value you bring to your customers, the increasingly competitive market in which you operate is making it harder than ever to differentiate your services.
As a knowledge-based business, there aren’t many metrics that firms can use to set themselves apart. That’s why investing in the client experience has become such a key differentiator for today’s accounting firms.
A great client experience has measurable value for any business. For example, one 2015 study across professional services organizations found that those that scored highest for client satisfaction saw greater revenue growth and higher billable utilization.
But achieving this, and creating more valuable and engaging client relationships, requires that accounting firms become more collaborative, and fundamentally change the working dynamic between internal teams and their clients. In fact, it’s a change that’s not only being driven by accounting firms, but also by the clients themselves, who are beginning to demand greater transparency into the process.
Unfortunately, many of the legacy enterprise tools many businesses rely on are no longer fit for this purpose and present very real barriers to this more collaborative way of working. Processes are riddled with inefficiency, governance is often put at risk and clients become frustrated with delays. A recent Huddle study of accounting professionals across the U.S found that 55 percent were limited by their workplace tools when sharing files with their clients, 51 percent had wasted time working on a document only to discover it had already been superseded by a newer version, and 39 percent were routinely delayed on a project while waiting for approvals. None of this speaks to the efficient, client-focused approach that’s required for success.
More organizations are discovering the power of cloud-collaboration tools, which allow organizations to share and work on documents in the cloud, outside of the company’s firewall. These tools address these deficiencies and drive greater efficiency and client-focus into their businesses. Here are four ways your firm can benefit.
Synchronicity and Communication
In the increasingly commoditized and competitive accounting industry, superior client relationships are a significant competitive advantage, meaning that clear client communication is an absolute business necessity. Most companies interact with clients exclusively via email or through shared extranet spaces that essentially act as file dumping areas. Using a dedicated collaboration platform lets you interact with them in real-time, so all parties can edit, discuss and upload work.
Client collaboration is also a great way to ensure all parties have the most up-to-date and accurate information, which can streamline not just communication, but workflow as well. By creating a shared community space to collaborate with clients in real-time, accountants can cut the amount of hours wasted going back and forth on email and accelerate review cycles.
More importantly, cloud collaboration platforms provide a single, consistent client interface to minimize the chance of working with bad data and give clients the chance to voice their preferences early in the process. As a result, clients have more say in the process, increasing the chances that they’ll approve of the end result and witness the effort that went into developing it. An accountancy firm using a cloud collaboration portal offers a more thorough, well-managed service than its competitors—something the client has the instant visibility to appreciate.
Accounting is a service that depends heavily on trust. Clients absolutely must have confidence that their private business information is safe and well-managed. Giving them insight into the process builds confidence in a firm’s service that’s rare in the rest of the industry, where information is generally kept tightly under wraps. Clients want to feel involved in their bookkeeping and have insight into how much time and effort is devoted to their account. By collaborating with clients directly, accountants can build transparency into the interaction and reduce concerns of neglect or mismanagement—a trust that ultimately lays the foundation for a longer and more productive relationship.
Sometimes, the hardest thing about working with a client is simply coordinating the logistics around accessing their information and changing financial needs and realities. A collaborative cloud environment is more convenient for both the accountant and the client because it allows them to make edits and add comments as they become necessary in real-time, reducing the risk of missed email or information. This also cuts down on the need for “status meetings” and conference calls (which are notoriously inefficient and ineffective)—all things that make your clients happier and set your firm ahead.
Gone are the days of dealing with the nuisance of firewalls that have traditionally been used to secure vital corporate data. Organizations are finding that it’s no longer about keeping data in, it’s about sharing it securely. This means letting go of traditional notions of the firewall. Cloud servers today are equipped with exceptionally strong firewall protection and encryption, meaning that any data stored there is completely protected, yet easy to share.
Above all else, clients need to know that their data is secure. Having a collaborative portal that absolutely establishes the safety of their data without compromising convenience makes things easier for both you and them and establishes that trust that is so pivotal for successful client relationships.
Cloud collaboration technology has opened an opportunity that never existed in accounting before: the opportunity to engage with your clients safely and directly, breaking down the barriers between your two organizations. It creates an entirely new relationship dynamic that allows your firm to highlight its value and give yourself that extra competitive edge.
Morten Brogger is CEO of the cloud collaboration service Huddle.