What CPA firms can learn from treehouse builders

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I have two young daughters. We just moved to a new house with a big backyard, so naturally my girls wanted a treehouse. I have some very basic home fix-up skills, but I knew this was a much bigger “ask” then assembling a dollhouse — certainly not something I was about to tackle on a Sunday afternoon. But like any self-respecting dad on Father’s Day weekend, I couldn’t disappoint my daughters.

So, I Googled treehouse manufacturers in my area and was blown away by an amazing customer service experience I had with one of the local companies. It was a Sunday morning, so no humans were available, but I spent the next 45 minutes with an extremely intuitive bot that guided me step by step through the entire treehouse buyer journey. The treehouse I finally settled on wasn’t cheap, but I got exactly what I wanted, exactly when I wanted it.

How many of your clients would say the same about your firm?

People want instant answers today. They expect their CPAs to be as responsive as their favorite online takeout places, retailers and travel sites. Your clients don’t want to have to pick up the phone and wait four days for an answer. When that happens, clients feel unappreciated. And that’s not good in a world where they can just whip out their phone and search Yelp, Google, etc., to find three other accounting firms right next to your office. In fact, clients are far more likely to leave their CPA because of how they were treated than because of the CPA’s technical competence or results.

We can apply three lessons from the treehouse builders to create a better experience for our clients and prospects:

1. Social proof: With dozens of five-star online reviews, Google made the site easy for me to find and gave me confidence to move forward on my buyer journey with them.

2. The ability to engage with them without having to call them: I wasn’t ready to buy when I first went to the treehouse site. I was still in the research phase of my buyer journey. But, thanks to the intuitive chatbot, I was able to engage with all the content, resources and ideas they had to offer — at my own pace — without being pressured to make a purchase decision on the spot.

3. Multiple service level offerings: They gave me two good options for moving forward. It wasn’t yes or no. It was more A or B. There was a basic do-it-yourself option, and a more expensive option for customers who need extra hand holding.

Even better, I could get all the information I needed to make an informed buying decision when it was convenient for me, not for the seller. In my case, Sunday morning was when I wanted to check out the treehouse company and their chatbot couldn’t have made it easier.

Suppose I could only talk to the company during “regular business hours.” By Monday, I would have lost interest.

My treehouse journey

After asking me a series of questions, the treehouse company’s chatbot helped me find exactly the style and size treehouse that I knew my girls would love. Now it just came down to two important options:

1. Build it yourself (we’ll provide the plans; you purchase the materials and assemble yourself).

2. We’ll come over and build it for you (much more costly).

I went for the do-it-yourself option because I have a great handyman, and I knew he could help me for a fraction of what the treehouse company’s premium on-site option would cost. With the click of a button, they sent detailed step-by-step instructions and told me exactly what to buy. Couldn’t be simpler.

Let’s look at the business model. Once the treehouse company has developed the plans for a particular model, it’s almost pure profit for them every time they send the plans to a new customer. And if the customer needs help with assembly, they can charge plenty of markup to have a crew make an on-site visit. Brilliant!

Thanks to the bot, I got exactly what I wanted exactly when I wanted it without having to talk to a human — all while sitting in my pajamas on a Sunday morning.

I know what you’re thinking: “My clients aren’t going to talk to a robot. They need a real person.” Hmm. I think I heard the same thing when client portals and self-serve calendar apps came out. But almost all clients are using them, regardless of age of technical acumen.

CPA firms can learn a lot from the treehouse builders. Any firm can take the time to analyze why people come to their site and what their most common questions are — and the sequence in which they ask those questions. By handling all the routine, repetitive questions that come in — about 90 percent of the total — the human experts at the company are freed up to focus on what’s most important. Don’t tell me you can’t follow the same model at your firm. If a local company that builds kid’s treehouses can figure it out, so can you.

What’s been your experience with Live chat and bots? I’d love to hear from you.

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