Be clear, be calm during coronavirus

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Sometimes it takes a crisis to get people to take action. Now is clearly one of those times.

Whether government-mandated or strongly recommended, millions of professionals and knowledge workers will be working from home for the foreseeable future until we get a handle on the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Working remotely has swiftly gone from a nice-to-have employee benefit to our only way of doing business. If every office building in America is closed, how can you make sure your firm is operating smoothly and that you’re able to communicate with your clients and your team?

To avoid feeling overwhelmed and isolated, it’s helpful to break these decisions into three important buckets:

1. Client communication
2. Team communication
3. Document transfer and sharing

Let’s take them one at a time:

Note: I have no commercial relationship with any of the products and services mentioned here and their inclusion should not be construed as an endorsement.

1. Client communication

There are two types of communication you need to emphasize: one-to-many and one-on-one.

One to many: It’s essential to send regular emails to clients keeping them apprised of how your organization is handling the crisis and the steps you’re taking to ensure smooth operations. As news develops that may impact your clients, put together a well thought-out email and send it to everyone. Being proactive will eliminate hundreds of incoming calls that flood your office every time the IRS releases a new statement about how the coronavirus will affect their returns.

I recommend reaching out to your clients at least once per week between now and the end of April. You don’t need to start from scratch each time. Just set up a simple template that has room for three to five important updates each week, plus a direct phone number for clients to call.

One-on-one: For your top 20 to 30 clients, I recommend calling each of them personally. You have the time to do this! Check with your best clients to find out how they are doing during this crisis and what their biggest concerns are. This is where you add value!

Even better than calling clients, why not FaceTime them? It’s not like you have to set up a complex webinar just to see their faces. FaceTime, Screen Share and other video-chat apps are simple to use on your phone or PC. They will accelerate trust if clients can see your reassuring face and can make eye contact with you.

Again, you should also be calling your best clients directly to reinforce that you’re there for them and that you’re always available if they have issues or concerns about important decisions they’re planning to make. During scary times like these, you need to be the calm in the storm.

2. Document sharing/transferring

There’s a chance that all office buildings may be closed throughout the U.S. and clients may not be able to drop off information at your place of work. Client portals are quickly going from a nice-to-have amenity to an essential tool for CPA firms. You need to get all of your clients (and staff) up to speed on using your portal, regardless of their age or their technical acumen. A good way to do this is to send a ”how-to” email with written instructions and a video walk-through.

Ask one of your staffers to record a short video that includes step-by-step instructions for using your portal. The video should quickly explain how to create an account, upload a document, and communicate with you online. Take a screen shot of each step, turn it into a PDF, and then record a short video. It shouldn’t take your staffer more than an hour to do this and it will save you hundreds of hours in client support time. Chances are, they’ll have fun with this assignment.

SnagIt is a great tool for taking screen shots. Loom is a great tool for shooting short-form video.

Rather than clients constantly sending you text messages with pictures of documents, here’s a better option. Have them download a scanning app on their phone, which they can use to turn document pictures into PDFs, and send to you via email. We use an app called TurboScan. Clients can also use the camera and scan tools located within the Notes app on their iPhones. Are you worried that clients won’t know how to use the app? Here is another great opportunity to create “how-to” instructions.

All of the tools and best practices above can be explained to clients in a “Readiness Email” that you send to clients on teaching clients how to work through this difficult time period.

Very important: Don’t just tell clients to use the portal and various apps; you need to show them how to do it step by step. This will save you and your teams time, as well as help clients become more comfortable with a more efficient way of doing business with you.

3. Team communication

In order to prevent yourself and your staff from being bombarded by back and forth emails during these unprecedented times, you need to set up an internal team messaging system. Microsoft Teams and Slack are good options for this purpose.

Slack is an internal messaging system that’s incredibly easy to set up. At our firm, we never send emails to each other; we only use Slack. Emails are reserved for clients! With tools like Slack, you can set up different “channels” for your internal team such as “Tax Return Questions,” “Coronavirus Updates,” “General” etc.

All internal communications can live in those channels as though you are in the office.

None of the tools and tactics mentioned in this article are brand new. They’ve been battle-tested and they work. In fact, you should have had these processes in place long before coronavirus rocked our world. If you’re able to lean into this new landscape and become anti-fragile, you’ll come out of this crisis as a much better organization. At times like these, it’s critical that you let your staff, your clients and your strategic partners know that you’re ahead of this crisis. As a leader, that’s your job. It all starts with communication.

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Practice management Client communications Client relations Coronavirus Collaboration tools Document management Employee communications Microsoft Apps