If you’re like most firms, the majority of your client interactions are now online. How do you make as great an impression online as in person? That’s where front office software comes in. Think of front office software as the dining room in a restaurant and back office as the kitchen. Front office is the face of the business. It’s where clients interact with you online when they can’t meet in person. Naturally, it’s a tidier space than the day-to-day kitchen that you and your team work in.
How does your digital front office stack up with what your clients need and expect? Let’s put ourselves in our client’s shoes. In today’s client-first world, clients are treated to digital experiences that really add to their lives. As booking travel online is faster and easier than the alternative, 80 percent of travel bookings occur online. Is your front office built for this level of delight and self-service?
The best online client experiences result from focusing exclusively on the needs of the client without inheriting the baggage of the back-end functions. For example, airline booking apps are sleek and fabulous both in browsers and in apps. They look absolutely nothing like the airline booking systems to which they are attached in the back office. Hotel and car reservation apps are similar in this regard. The reason is simple: clients need ease while employees need power. Matching software to the needs of each audience unlocks delight, efficiency, and growth.
Is there an all-in-one accounting software out there that handles front office and back office equally well? A few companies, called software suites, try. But there are multiple reasons why they fail to delight firms and clients:
- The focus is on the firm: The front office solution of an all-in-one software suite looks like a slimmed-down version of the back office. Now imagine if airlines took the same approach. It would be terrible, and we wouldn’t use it! And this is exactly what is happening with accounting suites and why clients have an allergic reaction when they hear the word “portal.”
- Firms offer broad ranges of services: The types and breadths of services offered by firms continues to evolve. Not so long ago, many firms exclusively focused on tax. That is no longer the case. Client accounting services, advisory, and other year-round revenue-generating lines of business have risen to meet customer demand and spur growth. All-in-one suites have a difficult time keeping up with the pace of innovation. Firms inevitably must look outside the suite for software to support their new lines of business. This leaves firms and clients to juggle a bunch of solutions instead of getting the “all-in-one” value.
While considering whether your firm can go all-in-one, it’s worth considering what “all-in-one” means. In 2019, Gartner published its free eBook “Does Your Digital Customer Service Strategy Deliver?” In the eBook, Gartner points out that client service professionals are feeling the pressure from clients to add additional ways to work with firms. Many firms are complying.
Here’s a quiz about how many ways your clients are reaching out to you:
- Do clients reach out via the phone with questions?
- Are they emailing you?
- Are any of them texting you?
- Do you offer them a portal?
- Are they asking you questions via chat app or social media?
If you answered “yes’ to several of those categories, you already realize how much time it takes to keep client communications organized and at your fingertips. The more communication channels a firm offers, the higher costs rise. Gartner quantified the average additional cost: each channel adds roughly $8 to the cost of each customer interaction.
“Gartner research finds that the more channels a company operates, the more contacts customers make to the service center. Despite the intention of simplifying service, more channel offerings create complex customer resolution journeys. Customers switch easily and frequently between channels…[and] channel switching drives up costs.”
By consolidating the customer experience into as few channels as possible, firms can more easily track and manage communications. This is what works for airlines, hotels, banks, etc. They attract us to their apps, enable us to work with them in a single place, and save millions of dollars per year in customer service costs. Meanwhile, their customers are delighted by the simplicity and keep coming back for the rewarding experience.
Choosing an all-in-one suite vs. best of breed
The key to any successful software decision is to design around the business you want. It’s particularly essential with client-facing software because you’ll have to bring your clients along if you want to change direction. Here are some questions to help guide whether a dedicated front office software package is right for you:
- How important is client experience to your firm?
- How important is consolidating the customer experience into fewer, more successful channels?
- How important is the ability to change your firm’s service offerings?
- How important is it for staff to have visibility across all client contacts?
- How much do you like the ability to take advantage of new, shiny back-office tools?
If any of the above are important, then implement a best-of-breed strategy. Implementing a dedicated front office software package will maximize your client experience, while offering maximum long-term flexibility for staff. Modern APIs and direct integrations make it easy to make everything work together. If you ever want to add, change, or delete a back-office system, the client will be none the wiser.
If none of the above are important, then an all-in-one suite will minimize the number of decisions you must make. It will do this by providing everything in a single bundle. However, if you go that route, you need to be prepared for clients to resist using the suite's portal. Many suites have clunky portals, which leads clients to call you, ping you on social media or text you.
Learning from others
The best-of-breed vs. all-in-one software battle has raged for years and will likely continue to be for some time. However, if we look around us for clues as to which model will win, it is clearly best-of-breed. Airlines, hotels, banks etc. have all shown this model to be sustainable and delightful for clients. Intuit offers a robust marketplace that offers integrations with hundreds of tools because they know they can’t (and shouldn’t) build it all. Salesforce follows the same model. Microsoft dropped their all-in-one ambitions when they opened up their mobile products to work with Apple and Google. Industry titans realize they can’t do it all and instead seek to solidify their places in the market by being open and customer-centric. We think the same is inevitable in the accounting profession. New innovations arrive almost daily. Firms want and deserve to take advantage of them. And more and more firms and software developers are pursuing open strategies that elevate them above the low ceilings of all-in-one suites.
At Liscio, we’re dedicated to the craft of client experience. We believe that the front office must start with deeply understanding the client and their busy mobile day, and then work backward from there. In our opinion, building a great front office experience is worth the thought and attention of an entire organization, not just a department. We believe in openness and integration, so that firms retain the flexibility to change their back office systems without disrupting their clients. And we believe that a great client experience belongs to all firms -- regardless of size and budget. If you believe in the same, we invite you to get to know us.