[IMGCAP(1)]We all know the world is changing. Business as we know it is transforming before our very eyes. And with that comes change from our customers — they are smarter, more engaged, and as a result expect more.

Most people in accounting know I’m radical. But what does that actually mean? What makes my firm a radical “New Firm?”

There are four fundamental tenets that compose a new set of values that most “new firms” embrace. They are worth repeating:

1. Cloud/technology;

2. Social/communication;

3. Pricing/value; and,

4. Process/experience.

As CPAs, we spend most of our time buried in tax law changes and new regulations. While being on top of those matters is critically important from a technical standpoint, when we finally pick our heads up we are shocked to see our customers demanding more of us than ever before.

It’s not just grappling with the technology of the cloud and the ever-emerging tools of social media. It’s the pace of information-sharing disrupting the old model and creating a new customer. Responding to these new customer expectations is a new way of doing business for us.

Face it, our customers have changed. As a result, we have to figure out how to make our processes work for them today so that they have a pleasant experience. 

What does that mean? It means we must now rethink and retool all of our old tried-and-true processes to adapt to, please and excite this new customer species. It’s time for next practice, not best practices.

 

DIFFERENT IS BETTER

Your process needs an overhaul. Starting now. Rethink, reimagine and retrain your processes. Yes, each and every one. It starts with the sales process, pricing, onboarding, collecting documentation, creating deliverables, delivering deliverables, communication, and maintaining relationships with current clients. Process mapping can do all this.

Is process mapping for improvement a new idea? Not really, I just don’t think that our processes have materially changed as much as they should have in the last five years. We’re already behind because our customers are leaps and bounds ahead of us.

When I revamped my firm, it was because I kept finding holes in my model from using the cloud and social media. It was the best thing that could have happened to my business.

Before you do anything, before you start to figure out the first step, look outward. Study your customers before you start to evaluate your internal process. In today’s world, our job is to make their experience with us the best it can be. It’s our job to serve them. So before you make decisions based on efficiency, think about the enjoyment factor for your customer. Will you delight them? Give them more than they are asking for? Impress them with your insight and additional value? That’s the service and experience you want to provide.

 

NEW PROCESS, NEW VALUE

How do you sell to your clients? How do you price them? Your new, different way of doing business deserves a new way of being sold, value-positioned and priced. 

The cloud is disrupting the way you did business before. Data-mining is done in real time. You’re using one file with your team. It’s a game-changer. This means data changes and gets updated in real time. That capability shines a light on the old, dusty models that need to disintegrate.

That said, you can’t improve a process if you don’t know what the process is. How will you review these changes if you don’t have work papers? How will you document these changes? How will you train new staff? How will your clients’ staff react to your changes to their file? There are new questions and expectations that need to be addressed to maintain goodwill as you transition your clients into these new ways of working with your firm.

Mapping out your process steps is the first action in standardizing your work and output. Then add a layer of design thinking and use journey mapping to create an experience around a process. This is taking process to the next level of branding and creating a wow factor for a customer. This return on experience is what is going to give your firm more value.

Communication and transparency now take center stage. This is where many firms have to up their game dramatically. It’s now about collaboration between all parties that make a practice run — your clients, employees, vendors and solution providers. Using social media, the cloud and value-pricing tools will only enhance these connections.

The disruption these tools and models bring is real. However, you must realize that the culprit is not only the software, even though it will expose processes that are not relevant to this new way of doing business. It’s the transparency and communication that levels the playing field and can put small firms like mine in the same arena as the Big Four.

Real time creates chaos. For those who can’t handle it, that will be apparent to your customers. Chaos isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes essential for firm management to rethink 100 percent of your processes for delivering financial statements and consulting engagements. And yes, that includes every one of your processes.

Technology is changing the accounting profession. We have more access to tools than ever before to support better processes and business models to take our clients into the future. Communication and collaboration are becoming the critical components of a successful, meaningful client relationship. Information-sharing takes our productivity to the next level as our deliverables output increases exponentially.

Take the opportunity to start fresh. Get creative as you rebuild your firm from the ground up. It won’t be easy but start slow. It’s necessary to not only stay relevant but will propel you to even further success. Let me know how it goes. AT

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal at New Vision CPA Group and author of The Radical CPA.

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