Better Every Day

Client experience is where it’s at

The race to own customer experience is on. Beyond the accounting profession, companies are recognizing the importance of delivering a rich client experience to differentiate themselves from the competition. Amazon is the best example — one-click, frictionless ordering and full transparency into products, prices and delivery times define the experience for Amazon users and have set the benchmark for client experience worldwide.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is famous for saying, “Find things that won’t change in your business and invest heavily in those things. Take Amazon for example … 10 years from now people aren’t going to say, ‘I wish Amazon shipping was slower,’ or ‘I wish Amazon had a worse selection,’ so we invest heavily in fast shipping and a broad selection.”

Now, let’s apply this to the accounting profession. One of the things that won’t change for firms is client experience, so it’s important to invest heavily in this area. The fact is that the quality of services offered, alone, is no longer enough of a differentiator. Clients want a deeper, richer relationship with their accounting professional. They seek to foster a collaborative relationship and desire to work with you in the same frictionless, convenient way as client-experience sages like Amazon.

Client experience is at the heart of successful firms. And those that have mastered it will win every time.

Making client experience No. 1

Stats don’t lie. According to Gartner research, “89 percent of businesses today expect to compete mostly on client experience, versus only 36 percent four years ago.” This is a dramatic shift. For accounting firms, this means that to effectively compete on a playing field that continues to level out, mastering client experience is key.

“Client experience” is best defined as how you meet your clients’ needs at every point over the lifespan of the relationship. This means every interaction that you have with a client, such as:

  • How they are greeted when they enter your office.
  • Every digital communication, including emails, newsletters, client updates, alerts and more.
  • How you interact with them via your website. That is, is your site set up as a place for clients to do business and collaborate with your firm?
  • Your onboarding process.
  • Your higher-value advisory products.
  • Your client accounting, payroll and tax deliverables.
Where owner Jeff Bezos takes Amazon will have significant tax implications.
The silhouette of Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., is seen as he unveils the Fire Phone during an event at Fremont Studios in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Amazon.com Inc. jumped into the crowded smartphone market with its own handset called Fire Phone, ramping up competition with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Jeff Bezos

Client experience is a complex element in firms, consisting of multiple processes, tools and touchpoints. When you think about every interaction you have with clients, what does your overall client experience look like? And how does the experience you offer today make your clients feel?

Today’s clients expect to develop and desire to have a relationship with the organizations they conduct business with. And if that relationship is to grow and prosper, it comes down to how all interactions combined make the client feel. If their experience is superior, you have a client for life; if it’s bad, you will most certainly lose out to a firm that has mastered the art of client experience.

Traditional vs. a modern client experience

Traditional firm thinking has centered on getting the work done, relying on long-standing, yet outmoded, tools such as email, portals and tax organizers. Consider a common client experience during tax season:

  • The tax organizer is sent via email or portal. Consider here that 91 percent of data breaches begin with clicking a link or document in an email; also consider that many portal solutions are less-than-intuitive.
  • The client prints the organizer, which is commonly anywhere from 25-50 pages in length. The client completes, scans and returns organizer via email or portal.
  • During processing, communications between clients and your firm tend to move to email — siloing communications and eliminating all transparency into the process.
  • The client attaches additional source docs within email, which again is a highly insecure mode of communication.
  • Invoices are sent via mail or email with no option to conveniently pay online.

From start to finish, it’s a fairly disjointed process — one with many opportunities for information to fall through the cracks and providing little to no visibility into the overall process. In the end, what you are left with is several points of friction and a less-than-appealing client experience. The reality is that firms are simply doing what has always been done with little consideration to the impact it has on the client.

Client expectations continue to evolve, and today what clients expect is to work with their accounting professional in a modern way. They expect the Amazon treatment … personal, convenient and digitally driven.

So, what does a modern client experience mean? As you think through client experience in your firm, keep the following elements in mind:

1. Make client interactions personal. Get to know your clients on a deeper level in order to provide personalized service — service beyond expectations. Review of client data will help you personalize each interaction. For example, what method of communication do they prefer — video, text or onsite? When delivering a product, how do they prefer to receive it?

2. Be intentional with client interactions. Consider the client’s perspective and ask yourself, “How will this communication make my client feel?” For example, before sending a client organizer, consider if it’s the best choice for gathering client information. What message are you sending by expecting a client to print and complete 25 to 50 pages?

3. Support clients with the right tools for collaborating and communicating. Ensure tools work to make the client’s life easier. For example:

  • A website that offers clients a place to do business, complete with a client center where all client-facing apps are accessible, as well as on-demand appointment scheduling and online payment functionality.
  • A secure data and document sharing platform to eliminate insecure email and siloed communications.
  • A secure document signing solution that supports an intuitive and efficient process.
  • A video conferencing app that is intuitive and does not require the client to open an account.

The key here is getting to know your clients and being aware of how interactions with your firm make them feel. And then do everything you can to ensure a rich client experience every time.

Final thoughts

Today, it’s all about client experience. Firms should begin by conducting a thorough evaluation of the current experience in their firms and then work to evolve it via modern tools, connected processes and personalized interactions.

Remember, while the firm is completely in charge of defining the client experience, it’s your clients who decide whether or not you’ve delivered on that promise.

For more on refining and evolving your client experience, download Client Experience for the Modern Firm, and for more on this and other topics, listen to Darren’s “Better Every Day” podcast on iTunes or at rootworks.com/podcast.