What Do You Want to Do Differently in 2017?

Yes, it’s almost that time … 2017, and the question is, how should you think differently? Much has been written and discussed over the past few years of The Next Generation Accounting Firm and the Firm of the Future. Both concepts focus on evolving our firms and client bases to be essentially future-ready.

In this article, as we prepare ourselves for another year of rapid change, I want to focus on a different idea, the idea of thinking like a technology company to modernize our firms. You don’t have to be a technology company to think like one. Consider Delta Airlines, Starbucks, Marriott and Uber; none of these companies, at their core, are technology companies, but each one of them is revolutionizing their industries because they are thinking like one.

What comes to mind when you think about a modern business? For me, it’s about utilizing technologies to do things more easily and conveniently than we’ve done them in the past – modernization. Let’s look at a few examples:

Travel – Whether it’s an airline ticket, check-in for a flight or booking a hotel room, we expect to do this conveniently on any device we choose. If a company lacks a great experience doing any one of these things, we think a bit less of them. Or, how about Uber? I no longer think of riding in a taxi the same way (paying cash, calculating and adding a tip). Uber has completely changed my buying habits.

Dining – If a restaurant is not on Open Table today, I consider them old school. Their absence from this app is a signal that they don’t need or desire my business. Or, how about Starbucks? They’ve completely changed my expectation of placing my order in advance and not having to pull out my wallet to pay.

Software – Can you imagine calling a sales representative today to get a username and password to begin using software? How about filling out a paper form with your credit card information so that you can get started? If this were the process, my response would be, “No, thanks!”

Do you consider your business a modern firm? Based on your current technology barriers, would you enjoy doing business with your organization? Each of the examples discussed above revolve around the respective organization implementing a client experience platform that is friendly on both web and mobile.

Think about your website as the hub of your online client experience platform. Too many firms consider their website an online brochure of client services. Instead, consider building your platform as a place for your clients to do business with your firm. The following is a list of five things you should add to your platform today to modernize the experience with your firm:

  1. Logins – These are the various technology solutions implemented by your firm to better serve your clients. Solutions include QuickBooks Online, Bill.Com and client portals. You should have a client center that makes logging into these solutions simple from your website. Your platform should be flexible enough to handle new solutions, as they become a part of your future business model.
  2. Video Conferencing – In today’s busy world, driving across town to your office is not convenient for your clients, and a telephone call is just not as personal as a video conference. Video conferencing is inexpensive, easy to use and should be seamlessly integrated into your online platform. In addition to making video a part of your platform, you must also train your staff to offer it as an option when clients request meetings.
  3. Meeting Requests – Professionals are often too busy during the workday to research a new accounting firm and schedule an appointment; the evening may be the only time they have available. Your online platform must be able to accommodate those who wish to go online after hours to book an appointment.
  4. Chat – I find myself using the chat feature on websites more and more, typically for less-intrusive interactions to get quick questions answered. Chat is an alternative means for clients to communicate with your firm. Today’s modern firm must support multiple channels of communication.
  5. Payments – This works great for those 1040 clients; they can pay you before digitally signing their Form 8879.
  6. Workspace – Today’s modern firm should implement a workspace – a place to digitally onboard, train, and communicate with new prospects and existing clients. Instead of using paper forms to gather prospect information, you should be able to onboard like a software company, step-by-step. How about engagement letters? They should be signed in the same manner as a license agreement in iTunes. That should become your norm. To-do items? Get them out of email and integrate them in your client experience platform.

To experience live examples of each of the items mentioned above, visit my accounting firm’s client experience platform.

A new year is arriving, and the world has continued its brisk pace of change. It’s time for you to modernize your firm. The technologies I’ve mentioned are neither hard to implement, nor expensive; it just requires a little thought and effort. Make it your 2017 resolution.