Today, clients are asking for help with loan applications, setting up remote offices and workflows, and sometimes just basic advice on how to keep the doors open. And as many firms have shared, in this new way of doing business the accounting firm’s value as a trusted advisor has also become about how you support, communicate with, and reassure them that they are a priority and you are there to assist their business. This isn’t really new, but how you accomplish those things might be.
Here are five tips to help your firm establish and maintain trust with clients scrambling to understand this new way of business.
1. Trust looks different when it’s virtual.
In the past, doing good work was often enough to establish trust with your clients, but remote work scenarios require more. Your clients are most likely struggling right now, and extra assurances can go a long way in helping them feel comfortable that work is proceeding as usual.
This is especially crucial for clients that are used to a lot of face-to-face communication. You need to be patient as they master video tools – and perhaps even help them acclimate. Email and other written communications are notoriously prone to misinterpretation and misunderstandings, so finding new ways to incorporate visual contact and body language is critical to maintaining the rapport you have built before now. Going face to face whenever possible, even if virtually, is key to creating and maintaining trust.
Having strong onboarding processes – both for new and existing clients – will help establish the road ahead. Everyone is dealing with a new way of working, and it is important to set clear expectations, define responsibilities, establish deadlines, and outline security policies as early as possible. Get your clients involved in these discussions. We could all use a little more control in our lives right now, so make them a part of the process.
2. Establish your communication plan.
Every client will adapt differently to virtual communication. Think of your new remote relationships as a process and develop a communication plan tailored to each individual client.
Establish the methods of communication that will be used – whether that’s apps, email, or something else – what status updates you’ll provide, and exactly when and how you’ll be providing them. Create a detailed plan and share it with your clients to get their feedback. Everyone is currently dealing with an elevated level of anxiety and stress, so having structure and routines in place is important.
3. Take full advantage of your tools.
As the saying goes, there’s an app for that. It is more crucial now than ever to get the most out of your tech stack. By doubling down on the tools you already use and exploring all their capabilities, you can streamline your workflows and improve your remote capabilities without having to reinvent the wheel.
Many firms already have their tools of choice – things like Slack for internal communications, Zoom or Microsoft Teams for videoconferencing, or Bill.com for accounting automation. But do you know the full capabilities of your tools? You might be surprised to learn that your videoconferencing tools can be used for presentations, your accounting software can work for document storage, your chat tools allow you to make calls, and all of them likely offer ways to collaborate that you haven’t explored. (They probably even offer integrations with each other.)
By taking full advantage of your current technology and combining your workflows into those tools wherever you can, you’ll be able to present your clients with a seamless way of handling work, improving communication, and eliminating manual tasks to meet the demands of a virtual world.
4. Automate whatever you can.
Manual processes were inconvenient in normal times; they are largely impossible in a remote work environment. Automation is key to getting your work done in a timely manner and staying connected to your clients. Taking a good look at current workflows and processes to determine which ones have been roadblocks during remote work can help you identify what can be simplified through automation.
Can the apps and tools you currently use perform those manual processes for you? Are there templates that can be employed to simplify certain tasks? Chances are you’ve already incorporated some automation into your practice, but now is the time to review all your workflows with a critical eye to see what can be further simplified and where both you and your clients can benefit from even more automation.
5. A little setup goes a long way.
Tasks like onboarding clients to new technologies, integrating your tech stack, and implementing new automation undoubtedly require some setup time up front. Especially for clients where the relationship used to involve a lot of manual processes and person-to-person exchanges, it will take some time to get your new workflows in place. The time invested in setup now, though, is worth the payoff in the long run.
Even though many of your clients may think they are just making temporary adjustments, they may come to recognize that these improved processes and more organized workflows offer permanent benefits. Automation and time savings will continue to be useful no matter what the situation – and even those clients still resistant to remote work as a long-term option can continue to capitalize on today’s increases in efficiency and organization. Setup only has to happen once; the benefits continue long term. You’ll not only be better able to serve your current clients, but incorporating remote capabilities can open doors to a new national and international client base.
There is a tremendous opportunity for long-term strategic planning and improvements in how you handle the current demand for remote capabilities and communication. So instead of applying these fixes as a band-aid, think through how your firm and your clients can benefit from these changes in the new, post-pandemic normal. It’s going to be a brave new world out there.
Last modified on Monday, 18 May 2020