By Mairtini Ni Dhomhnaill.
Whether or not you like numbers more than people, client relationships are a necessary evil in the accounting world. In my experience, the number one reason new clients give for leaving their old accounting firm is lack of responsiveness, especially over email. Now, with economic headwinds raising fears of an impending recession, building and maintaining strong client relationships is one of the best ways for accounting firms to mitigate the potential economic fallout as corporate clients seek to reduce their expenses.
In an uncertain economy, reliable customer relationships are more important than ever for accounting. In fact, 46% of accountants believe that building relationships is the most essential skill for future accountants, according to Sage’s Practice of Now. Meanwhile, the same report reveals that 82% of accountants say customers are more discerning these days, expecting better and faster service without paying higher rates.
Let’s explore why customer relationships are so critical to dealing with the current moment and how to navigate these changing tides.
The Changing Face of Accounting as the Landscape Goes Digital
The state of accounting has changed significantly in recent years. In the past, the main communication with customers was monthly, quarterly or even annually. Today, clients expect their accounting firms to be much more involved in day-to-day operations.
This development has largely coincided with the pandemic-induced digital transformation, as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have disrupted the accounting space. As new technology proliferates in the industry, the AI in accounting market is expected to reach $16.07 billion by 2028 from $1.7 billion in 2021. AI and automation offer significant value to back-office roles, supporting tasks that machines can perform while providing greater accuracy and efficiency. That said, AI cannot present a financial report at your next board meeting.
AI comes at the perfect time to help businesses manage the deluge of customer communication on a daily basis. But without investing in automated workflows and the right technology tools, businesses can quickly lose pace with customer demands and fall short of ever-increasing expectations for responsiveness.
While understanding appropriate response times may differ by customer, the reality is that when prioritized by business management, there are tools available to ensure effective customer support. For example, my company, Countsy, uses Front to organize our communication and streamline collaboration by quickly sourcing the people needed to best respond to a request. With a finger on the pulse of emerging business technology, you can ensure your accounting staff is set up for success and able to scale as your business grows.
Use the human touch to drive customer retention and expansion
Multi-year client relationships are the bread and butter of any accounting business. A customer relationship that goes beyond the strict transactional and offers human touchpoints through interactions can make the difference when it comes time to renew your contract. People love working with people they love, which is why Deloitte found that B2B customers are on average 32% more likely to renew with B2B companies that master customer experience.
Investing in the customer relationship and providing a robust communication protocol will allow you to better build these human relationships using digital tools. With less time spent on ad hoc requests, teams can instead focus on higher value conversations that really show the depth of their service. When the pandemic started and Countsy moved remotely, our customers did not see a change in the quality of service since we were already using Front for our customer communications. Without having to spin the wheels of relevant stakeholders to get answers from clients, we can deliver faster while deepening the analysis that really makes us valuable as accountants.
Instead of being overwhelmed with email aliases and playing hot potato with your team waiting for someone to spearhead a response, customer communication tools can help you divide and conquer. . Above all else, people want to be heard, and focusing on that personalized human touch will build trust, making your customers feel seen and understood.
Workforce needs to evolve with the times, but don’t give up on company culture
While the United States saw the peak of the Great Quit in March, there are still nearly two job openings for every unemployed person. The accounting profession has been hit hard by this attrition, compounding an already insufficient supply of accountants, with the number of accounting graduates falling nearly 7% in 2019 from the peak in 2012.
Following the recent increase in turnover and the resulting job creations, companies must prioritize the complete integration and maintenance of the company culture to ensure sustainable growth and strong relationships. with customers. Replacing an individual employee is not cheap – costing between half and double the original employee’s salary. Inadequate knowledge sharing has an even higher price. According to Panopto’s Knowledge and Workplace Productivity Report, the average large US company loses $47 million in productivity each year due to ineffective knowledge sharing.
Maintaining a thorough understanding of your history with a client is essential for strong client relationships in accounting. Communication tools that give new hires access to their company’s entire email history with a customer greatly simplify onboarding. Such tools that streamline efficiency around customer relationships and knowledge sharing will help maintain a company’s identity while allowing more time to build a strong corporate culture.
Hybrid workplaces have proven their staying power, and businesses must leverage technology to simplify collaboration as they adapt to this enduring norm. When the tools streamline such extensive knowledge sharing, there’s more time to build stronger internal relationships and create a place where people want to continue growing their careers.
Also tangential to the actual services provided by accountants, hard numbers and detailed analysis mean nothing without strong client relationships. As technology changes the landscape and helps accountants meet growing client demands, a robust communication framework will help accountancy firms retain clients while preserving company culture and expanding their workforce. The industry will continue to face significant technological and societal changes, but high-quality customer relationships will remain key to long-term success.
Mairtini Ni Dhomhnaill is the founder of Countsy.