Amazon effect: Business with least amount of friction wins
Hopefully you’ve paid off all your holiday shopping charges by now. Wasn’t it amazing how much you spent with Amazon? All the charges are legitimate, but you don’t remember spending so much time shopping there, right? That’s the point. It’s just so easy to do business with Amazon that you’ll continue shopping there even if they don’t necessarily have the lowest prices.
Amazon has all your billing, shipping and card information on file. They know exactly where you want your items shipped. You click one button and your item arrives within 24 hours, sometimes on the same day. People keep doing business with Amazon because it’s so easy and because they don’t have to think about their purchases. Today’s clients expect Amazon-like service from everyone they hire. CPA firms are not exempt.
When we talk about friction, we’re talking about all the little things that make it difficult for client to say yes to you for more services. When was the last time you looked at your billing procedures or your process for client document collection, digital signatures, appointment setting? How does your client portal stack up to other firms? When was the last team you really asked your best clients what you could be doing better? As I mentioned in The Power of the Red Chair, how would you and your team react if your best clients were in the conference room with you as you discussed ways to make the client experience better at your firm?
Most common types of CPA friction
1. Billing (go from detailed hourly invoices to automated billing). When most CPAs send clients a bill, they’re not really showing clients the value they have created or the problems they’ve solved. It’s just a tally of how many hours it took to complete a tax return or other assignment. Unfortunately, it just opens the door for clients to respond, “It shouldn’t have taken you this long.” They never say, “Thanks. That was fast!” They always think it should have taken you less time and cost less money. Think of billing as a “value gate.”
If you keep putting up “value gates” like your hourly billing procedure, clients will eventually stop opening the door for you. Most clients don’t mind paying a bill. They just hate reviewing invoices and writing checks, especially if it’s for a different amount each month.
Savvy CPA firms take a different approach to billing. They simply set up different tiers of service—i.e. Gold, Silver and Platinum—and bill clients automatically every month based on their level of service. If clients start asking you to do more for them, don’t worry about “scope creep.” You simply move clients up to the next tier of service. Very few will push back if it’s a quick and easy decision that they don’t have to think about.
2. Getting documents from clients. I know it’s hard for CPAs to believe, but most clients don’t enjoy looking through reams of account statements, stacks of receipts, and any type of IRS form beginning with the letter “W.” Make it easy for clients to turn that headache over to your staff. Show clients how easy it is to scan their documents and upload them to their secure online vault or portal. If you have old school clients who are more comfortable working with paper, don’t make them drive all the way down to your office to deliver their paperwork. Just send them a half-dozen prepaid and pre-addressed express mail pouches at the beginning of tax season so they can stuff all their paperwork into the pouches and have it out of sight and out of mind on the way to your office. It really doesn’t cost much to receive client documents this way and it saves them a ton of hassle.
Start to think of yourself as the Uber or Eat Fresh of tax documents.
3. Signatures. Another value gate CPAs run into is telling a client, “Hey, I need you to sign this.” There are so few things today that really require a hard signature from a client. Clients are increasingly expecting an Amazon-like “click of a button experience.” If you don’t have auto signature software, go out and get it now! Clients should be able to sign something for you digitally even if they’re out of the country or on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. Work is no longer a place. Work is a thing that we do. Clients should be able to interact with you easily, wherever they happen to be.
4. Online portal. A well-built client portal is one of the best ways I know to make a client’s life easier and make them think twice about switching to another CPA firm. In its simplest form, a client portal is a secure online destination where clients can electronically store and see all of their key financial information. Have your staff call your best clients and walk them through the steps for using the client portal. Thanks to today’s technology (Loom, Screentastic or Camtasia), it’s easy and inexpensive to create a short video tutorial for your clients that shows one of your team members walking through the steps.
5. Appointment scheduling. Don’t make it hard for clients to schedule time to see you or ask quick questions. Online scheduling tools such as Calendly enable clients to book appointments with you directly 24/7/365 and not have to tie up your admin staff. You can simply instruct your online scheduling tool to keep “Tuesdays open from 2 pm to 6 pm to take client calls.” You can take it a step further and limit those call “windows” to 15-minute increments for routine questions. Clients simply go to your scheduling link, find a timeslot that’s most convenient for them, and then click a button to lock in the preferred day or team. Most scheduling tools will automatically sync the appointment in the client’s own calendar.
It couldn’t be more convenient for you and your client and it saves you both a ton of time.
“That’s the way we’ve always done it” will no longer fly in today’s Amazon economy. It’s all about realigning with your clients. They don’t want a tax return from you. They don’t want to call you in a panic on April 10 and ask, “What is this form?” They want lower taxes, numbers they can understand, and a better framework for making smart financial decisions.
The more clients can focus on their finances and the less time they have to spend on the minutiae involved in doing business with you (i.e., give you money), the better things will be for you, your team and your clients. Technology has made it simple and inexpensive for firms of any size to create a one-click client service and reduce the friction between clients and you (their most trusted financial service provider).
(Disclaimer: Products or services mentioned in this article are purely for illustration purposes and should not imply an endorsement by the author or the author’s firm.)