Using Client Collaborator to Reduce Site Visits

Each year in the fall, Intuit® releases a new version of QuickBooks® with a number of enhancements and new features. I always find myself looking forward to this introduction – so much so, that in recent years I have participated in Intuit’s Beta Testing program to get an early chance to evaluate these new releases and see just how they can improve or change my practice, as well as my clients’ businesses.

The introduction of QuickBooks 2014 in September 2013 was no exception! Easily topping my list of best new features is the Client Collaborator (Chrome users, cut and paste this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAOm_gKvEog).

Unique to QuickBooks Accountant Plus 2014, Client Collaborator allows you to communicate with clients who are using QuickBooks 2014 products. You can do so directly from transaction screens without ever leaving QuickBooks. This article is not so much a “how-to” when it comes to using Client Collaborator, but rather, a look at how this new feature has helped me save time and ensure that I provide a quality product to my clients.

When initially released, R1 only supported four transaction types for Client Collaborator. By R3, the first major update for 2014, the number of supported transaction types had significantly increased to 26 different types. Along with this increase came a much more functional and practical feature. Hopefully, this trend will continue with future releases of QuickBooks 2014.

First Step: Identify Clients

In Client Collaborator, the accountant and client need to be using QuickBooks 2014. I only had two clients who switched to QB 2014 right away. As I reviewed this feature, I easily identified three more clients who took up a good deal of time when I made monthly site visits.

I used these five clients as a test to determine what kind of impact I could expect from using Client Collaborator. All five are fairly small clients with one to five employees and one or two QuickBooks’ users. I approached the three clients who were using QuickBooks 2012 and 2013 with a proposition that I would pay for their upgrade to 2014 if they would agree to try using Client Collaborator with me. All three agreed without hesitation.

Time Savings Achieved

I have now been using Client Collaborator with these five clients for about three months since November 2013. On average, I had been making two site visits a month to each of these clients prior to implementing this change, with each visit taking anywhere from four to eight hours. After making this change, I eliminated one visit a month for each client by having the clients send me an emailed copy of their file after month-end; I then reviewed it in my office and communicated with them primarily through Client Collaborator.

The one remaining site visit was shortened by one to two hours because the work was more focused on the client’s results and analytics rather than transaction-level details. This seems to keep these small business owners more engaged in the business and less on personal chatting, so the time spent with them is more productive.

Based on these changes, I eliminated about 10 hours of travel time and 25 hours of on-site time per month from these five clients – a 40% savings in hours spent on these five clients! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that those are hours that can be deployed on additional revenue-generating activities. It also puts any time spent socializing with my clients back in my control, in which I can engage them where and when time permits.

Moving Forward

This limited test was obviously a big time savings for me, but at the same time, the sample was skewed to almost guarantee that result. I have a number of clients who are not quite as extreme when it comes to the amount of time wasted, but it’s still worth looking into for additional savings. These are clients with whom I am not necessarily willing to pay for their upgrades to QB 2014, but I am willing to discount product upgrades between 20% and 50%, based on the time savings that I believe will result in each client.

I am getting ready to roll that out right after tax season to see how many clients will move forward with it. Even if the individual results are substantially lower than my test sample, which I suspect will be the case, there is still a significant time savings to be achieved using this new feature. Again, this puts control of those hours back under my control instead of my clients’ control.

Tips & Tricks

One element to make you aware of is that only the accountant can initiate a conversation or close a conversation in Client Collaborator. If the client has any questions, he/she has to accept using more traditional methods, such as email, phone and in-person.

Instead of leaving these items and the related time expended on them on the table, I implemented a little workaround for my clients. I open a conversation in one of my own transactions, where I am the vendor, highlight that transaction as “client questions” and then don’t close it. This allows my clients to ask me questions about transactions they are processing and fix them the first time they are touched, resulting in additional time savings.

When I initially set up Client Collaborator with each client, we discussed this option and its use; for the most part, each of these clients were using it for the purpose intended. When they don’t, I quickly alert them of their “transgression” and move forward. This has worked fairly well, but I am still hoping that as Intuit continues to develop Client Collaborator, the company will add a fully functioning bi-directional conversation tool into the feature.

Where We Are Today

I am pleased with the time savings, as well as the improved quality of my work product that has resulted from this new feature. Even when used with remote clients, it seems that the product quality improves and conversations are more focused on results than transactions. Based on these early results, I am looking forward to continued enhancements coming from Intuit and new ways to save time and improve the quality of work for each of my clients.

I wonder what the next improvement will be!