Accounting Expert Shares 4 Key Considerations Around Workflows and Client Experience
Guest Blog by: Carrie Stemke
Having an efficient workflow and offering a positive, high-quality client experience are crucial parts of increasing your firm’s productivity and profitability. But how do you achieve these goals? Thought leader and Accounting Today Top 100 Most Influential alum Randy Johnston says it comes down to what might be a surprising answer: You need to have a better document storage solution in place.
Randy Johnston shared his best strategies for increasing productivity, profitability, and client satisfaction in a SmartVault webinar. A summary of the conversation is below. You can watch the full webinar on-demand here.
Taking the Right Approach to Making Changes
Even in 2022, many accounting firms are still struggling with the mundane tasks of trying to gather documents from their clients, track everything, and deliver accurate reports and analyses. Fortunately, there’s good news: This isn’t just an unavoidable part of being an accounting professional. It’s important to “look at this as a C-Suite person to get this right,” says Johnston.
So, what would a CEO do? Johnston recommends getting “out of your comfort zone into a different box” and focusing on the following:
- Making the right document storage solution choices. You want to select programs that are easy for you, team members, and clients to use, as well as offer good value for the money and integrate well with other software you use to run your firm.
- Focusing on ensuring your client has a good relationship with your entire firm, not just you. If they like you but don’t care for your workflow or staff, they’re likely to leave you for a competitor. The same goes for your employees. Looking at the bigger picture and the firm as a whole will increase both client and employee retention in the long run.
Why Should You Update Your Tech Stack?
Although any time of year is a good time to update your tech stack (especially if you haven’t done so in a while), it’s particularly crucial to do so a month or two before tax season starts. The reason for this is simple: The busy season involves a lot of paperwork sharing between tax professionals and clients, so a good document storage program is essential. Johnston says taking this step will also provide the following benefits:
- Document management is inextricably linked with workflow management, so by picking the right program, you’ll streamline your practice, resulting in greater satisfaction and retention in terms of both clients and team members. Keeping the latter is particularly important: Hiring and retaining great talent has long been an issue for the accounting profession, and the Great Resignation and Great Retirement have compounded the problem. Fortunately, turnover rates are finally starting to slow down, notes Johnston, so this is your chance to reduce turnover at your own firm by creating a great team experience.
- You’ll also increase your firm’s profitability. Document management – and, by proxy, workflow management – has a big impact on this. Johnston reviewed the top goals most firm owners are looking to attain:
- Better clients who stay with the firm, are great to work with, and who are worthwhile financially
- Higher-end services, such as client advisory or niche services, both of which result in greater profits, as opposed to less profitable, lower-end services
- Effective team members who get the job done and stay with the firm
- A more streamlined workflow
All of these goals can be achieved by selecting the right document management software and by making the right operational choices.
How to Make the Right Operational and Software Decisions
Johnston says many accounting professionals haven’t updated their document storage solution since the 1990s because they either don’t know how or because they’re not aware of the new software programs that have replaced the previous clunky ones. When you’re looking at the various software available, it’s often helpful to think of how your more tech-savvy business clients are achieving their goals, as well as what they’re looking for from the programs their CPAs and tax prep professionals are using. Here’s a quick list of what clients are seeking:
- Easy collaboration with firm owners and their team members
- Seamless scheduling
- Efficient, streamlined workflow that makes tasks like making payments and sending documents easy, electronic, and secure
- Accountants with control over their workflow so clients don’t need to worry their paperwork will get stuck with one team member or their email will be lost somewhere in a crowded inbox
Many business clients achieve profitability by offering services like quick collections, easy billing, and integrated systems. What works for them will work for you, too.
So, what should you look for to find the right document management system? Johnston emphasized several crucial features:
- Security: Having a program that’s secure doesn’t just protect you from being held liable for breaches and keep your clients’ information safe. It’s also a feature that’s incredibly important to clients themselves and will elevate their trust in you.
- E-signature: Both clients and firms alike benefit from integrated e-signatures. It’s indispensable to any accounting practice. It will help you complete back-end tasks like filling out 8879s as well as front-end tasks, such as sending engagement letters.
- Integration: You’ll have more and better control over your workflow and an easier time offering proactive services like advisory effectively if all of your tools integrate with each other. And, fortunately, these days, that’s very simple to do. Many of the best document management solutions out there integrate with popular, well-known, and often-used practice management, tax preparation, and accounting software.
Making these changes to your tech stack now will have implications for months or even years, so take the opportunity to be proactive, urges Johnston. It will also have a positive effect on your team’s experience.
How the Right Document Management Solutions Retain Team Members
If your software is old and difficult to use, team members will quickly get tired and frustrated. The last thing you want is a high turnover rate, especially during the busy tax season, when morale is already in danger of being low and both you and your clients are buried in paperwork and emails. “Good team experience is a big deal,” notes Johnston. Making it easier to exchange documents will remove one headache for team members.
Additionally, the current talent seeking jobs in the accounting profession is much more tech-savvy than the old guard, and this is something you should be prepared for. They’re going to look for workplaces that do more with fewer integrated tools and that are modern and up-to-date on their software. This will help you solve the hiring and retention problems many accounting professionals have been having difficulty getting around.
The takeaway? When it comes to document storage and management solutions, Johnston says there’s one big goal: getting to a “single source of truth.” You can achieve this by managing documents well, communicating smoothly and reliably with your clients, and by streamlining your workflow by coordinating projects, engagements, and communication. “I kind of think of that scene in Top Gun where the bogeys are coming from all directions,” Johnston laughs. You don’t have to deal with this kind of organized mess anymore if you take proactive steps.
To see how SmartVault’s integrated document management and client portal can empower your firm, schedule a demo with us today.