Over the past few years the world has changed -- and so have our customers' expectations.

After our heads were down keeping busy with tax law changes and new regulations, we suddenly looked up to find our customers have different expectations of us. It's not just the technology of the cloud and social media. It's the pace of information sharing disrupting the old model and creating a new customer.

So what does that mean? It means we must now rethink and retool all of our old tried-and-true processes to adapt, please and excite this new customer species.

Get ready: Employees, customers, prospects and, yes, even management will all be learning new ways of doing business in the "new firm" model. It's no longer a fee for a tax return or financial statement; it's a collaborative partnership where a trusted advisor leads a small-business chief executive through accounting, tax and consulting services. Prospects no longer come only via referral from your area; they come to you through social channels -- meaning you may be working with new customers from around the world.

Using the cloud and social media fundamentally changes the relationship and communication expectations with your client and within your firm. This is one of the key factors of disruption for many accounting firms. It's not the software itself that is disruptive -- most cloud software is just like any on-premise software.

So now you have to rethink, re-imagine and retrain on every one of your process -- yes, every one. It starts with the sales process, pricing, onboarding, collecting documentation, creating deliverables, delivering deliverables, and communication and maintaining relationships with current clients.

 

WORTH THE WORK

I just revamped my entire firm. Yep! That's what creates the need for a "new firm" model, because using the cloud and social media quickly finds holes in the current firm process model.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you as you begin this journey is to first look outward. Look at your customers before you look at your internal process. It's your job to serve them. How can you delight them and not just make your firm more efficient? They are expecting an experience and not just service.

How do you sell to your clients? How do you price them? (I covered that in my last column, in the June issue, "Time doesn't matter.") Your new, different way of doing business deserves a new way of being sold, value-positioned and priced.

 

SAME PAGE, SAME TIME

Now that you are working in the cloud, you and your employees are mining the data in real time. It's one file. Repeat: one file! And this is a great thing.

You will be changing, updating and correcting it in real time. You must realize that it brings along many traditional old-firm-model processes that need to be changed, or at the very least updated. 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 in order to maintain goodwill as you transition your clients into these new ways of working with your firm.

It's the ability to communicate and deliver insight in real time that creates a new value proposition. Communication was always one of the biggest challenges traditional firms faced in the pre-cloud and pre-social world. Now add the fast turnaround that today's clients and the Internet demand of firms. Communication and transparency are increasingly critical in today's business environment, and most firms are failing miserably. The firm model is broken and requires a rebuild. It's about collaboration -- with your clients, employees, vendors and solution providers. All social, cloud and value-pricing tools enhance connections.

We know that it's the real-time that creates the chaos within the firm. This chaos is not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes essential for firm management to rethink 100 percent of its processes for delivering financial statements and consulting engagements. And yes, that includes every one of your processes.

Again, this is what is disruptive to the firm -- not the software. The cloud software, though, exposes many "old school" practices that just won't work anymore. Those practices will need to be updated. The new processes, I believe, are much better for firms but, admittedly, they will create havoc in the interim.

The accounting profession now has the technology to support new communication and collaboration processes, allowing firms to perform more work in less time with fewer resources. We have created an environment where information sharing has increased exponentially, thereby allowing us to output deliverables markedly faster.

This is a good thing. Embrace it. It's key to you surviving and thriving in today's new world.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal of New Vision CPA Group, as well as an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College. She speaks nationally on various technologies and taxation.

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