Better Every Day

5 principles for running a smarter firm

There seems to be no limit to what today’s digital tools can do. Consider all the intelligent recommendations you get every day from brand giants like Netflix and Audible: “Dear Darren, based on your viewing history, we think you would enjoy the following movies.” This type of innovation makes my life easier and saves me time. When I feel like reading a new book, for example, Audible is one step ahead of me with a list of preferred reading.

I also have “Lifetime Titanium Elite Marriott Bonvoy status.” Yep, I know. I’m not sure what that means either. What I do know is that based on my history with Marriott, I always receive stellar service because they know what I need and what I like. Whenever I check into a Marriott Hotel, there is a fan waiting in my room, the type of bed I prefer and a newspaper at my door every morning. Marriott is leveraging technology to capture client data and operate smarter, which leads to higher customer loyalty and repeat sales.

So, what does this mean to accounting firms?

My feeling is that the typical accounting firm is not doing enough to leverage technology and operate smarter. Most firm owners are solely focused on practice management — that is, tracking projects and tasks. This type of data largely focuses on historical performance like staff realization and billings. Don’t get me wrong — this is important data, but it’s not the type of information that leads to an improved client experience (like my experience with Marriott) and, ultimately, to heightened client loyalty and profitability.

What needs to change in accounting firms?

Running a smarter practice requires firm owners to think differently. A smarter practice is proactive, not reactive. Reactive firms are bogged down in compliance work — waiting for the next client request or deadline. A proactive firm is asking questions like: “How do we make our clients’ lives better?” and “How do we anticipate client needs without them having to ask?” These questions are easily answered when you have the right technologies in place — tools that allow you to capture critical client data that leads to a superior client experience.

Consider my Marriott example again. Marriott hotels work hard to remove any friction for their customers — making the client’s stay far more enjoyable. Upon check-in, front desk staff know my preferences so I don’t have to tell them. All I have to do is make it up to my room — frictionless! This is a prime example of a company that has figured out how to use data to run a smarter business … and firms can too.

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The following are five guiding principles to running a smarter, more modern firm:

1. Know your clients' needs. If you’re going to run a smarter practice, one where you can anticipate client needs, you must begin by defining what your clients’ needs are. What do clients really want from their financial professional? This is a big question … one that requires a lot of thought and work … but an effort that will be well worth it.

To get you started, I suggest that most clients want the same things — to feel financially at peace and know that they are making the right decisions to minimize their tax burden, limit the risk of an audit and that they are using the right technologies to operate their businesses. They also want to feel taken care of by their advisors. The challenge is capturing client data to dig deeper into client behaviors, and getting to a point where you can proactively anticipate their needs.

2. Implement the right technologies to capture client data. Once you start collecting client information, you’ll want to use a solution to support ongoing monitoring. For example, if I know that Client A’s main goal is financial peace, then saving for retirement is key. Your solution should capture what retirement plan or savings the client has, if any. This will guide you on the advice you offer. You should be tracking as much client information as possible.

3. Develop products to solve for clients’ needs. If you are tracking whether a client has a retirement plan, in cases where they don’t, you should have a product that solves this client need. A product like this would include a pre-defined education piece that informs the client about different retirement plans and a proposal.

4. Train your team to identify opportunities to serve. Opportunities to better serve your clients exist across your base. The issue in most firms is a lack of staff training. Train your staff to recognize opportunities, bring them to the surface, and act on them in the best interest of the client.

5. Work your opportunities. Name a champion or assemble a team to oversee identified opportunities and follow through on each. This team will be responsible for regularly reaching out to clients to capture data, evaluate input and work to solve issues and anticipate and act on needs.
Running a smarter practice is the future for accounting firms, and that means having the ability to capture and track client data at all times. Firms can operate on par with the Marriotts and Audibles of the world. All you have to do is get the right systems in place and then really listen to your clients.

For a deeper dive on the topics discussed in this column and more, subscribe to Darren’s “Better Every Day” podcast on iTunes or listen to it at rootworks.com/podcast.