A common misperception of accounting is that it’s a profession done in hiding far away from customers. With the advent of the Information Age and general globalization, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Today, accountants and accounting firms are in front of clients more than ever, all of which means having to provide and maintain a high level of customer service.
From increasing the amount of face-to-face time with clients to engaging in email and social media, accountants are adopting many customer service best practices to ensure client loyalty.
To help better manage customer expectations, for example, some accountants and firms add fixed monthly prices instead of “billable hours” to their list of options so that customers don’t end up with sticker shock when they receive the invoice. Others offer unlimited support, allowing customers to contact them at any time by phone, email or in-office – all at no cost.
Many accounting firms have moved into the digital age by offering an online accounting experience that gives customers access to their accounts 24 hours a day. This service allows clients to make better financial decisions by having unlimited access to their latest account information.
Besides better customer service, going online often means improved efficiency, which comes from the ability to instantaneously access a client’s documents and to easily transfer information between the client and the firm.
It’s also often more cost efficient, often netting significant savings related to handling paper, postage and overnight delivery charges. For clients, Web-based accounting services translate into savings as well. In general, it costs less for a business to outsource bookkeeping and accounting than to provide those services in-house.
Managing Customer Relationships
For firms with a long client roster, customer relationship management (CRM) software can make the difference in keeping customers happy and vital data in order. This accounting-specific software enables CPAs to keep tabs on public and proprietary information about a business, as well as the personal connections the practice has with clients.
There are a few different types of CRM programs – all of which can be used by large, medium or small firms. Most feature efficient contact communications, including email synchronization, customization tools, automated processes to increase daily productivity and remote data exchange.
One drawback with off-the-shelf products is a lack of technical support to fully integrate customer data from the software to devices such as a smartphone or other handheld electronic device. Another CRM software option includes integration suites that can either be used alone or with other software packages. While many of these are at the higher end of the price spectrum, they often include a Web-based portal that alleviates the need for technical management of databases.