It might seem tempting to try to find a one-stop-shop for all the software needs your firm has from front office to back office. Wouldn’t it be great if it all existed in one place? In theory, that sounds so simple and seamless. It just sounds nice and easy, right? But…
That’s not how it usually works, is it?
All-in-one solutions typically do one or two things really well but the others not so much, and that’s ok. It would be nearly impossible for one solution to meet all your needs in just the way you prefer. It’s like when you are grocery shopping. You get the bulk of your list from one store, but you go to another store to get fruits and vegetables, because they’re just better there.
The Downside of All-in-One Practice Solutions
With all-in-one solutions, the focus is usually on the professional user - meaning the accountant, bookkeeper, tax preparer, etc. The focus is not as much on the client's experience. This makes sense, as firms need and deserve great experiences, but what suffers is the end user, the client, your lifeblood. Without software that also addresses their needs, their experience suffers. As the accountant, you need systems that have both you and your clients in mind. Those do exist.
The Feature Loyalty Blindspot
“But I really like how the program does this thing really well,” say most accountants. That's awesome that you love your program. Keep it, but also explore new innovations, preferably solutions that integrate with your beloved program. Then, you have the best of both worlds.
This reminds me of a time about two decades ago, back in college, when I was a diehard Yahoo user for both email and search. Anyone, at the time, would have been hard-pressed to tell me I was wrong. However, once I gave into what my roommate was saying about Google vs Yahoo, I saw what I was missing. I even adopted Gmail when it was invite only, making me a very early adopter of Gmail. Yep...I’m sort of a big deal.
Back to you and your firm.
The Back Office vs. the Front Office
Ideally, your back office software is for you, the firm, and has very little, if anything, to do with the client. Conversely, your front office software is your digital "front door." It’s rooted in giving your clients the best experience.
Your front office software is the clients' portal to you, and I gag a little each time I use the word "portal." The word is laced with negative feelings of clunky college websites where I had to upload papers and assignments. That’s largely the feeling your clients get when they hear that word too. Portals are unappealing because they haven’t evolved to look, feel, and function in a modern way.
The Simplified Client Experience
Why has Zoom been so successful? Give that question a minute to rattle around in your brain. Why has Zoom become the "Kleenex" of online meetings?
Simply put, they stayed in their lane. They didn’t try to be an all-in-one communication platform. They very easily could have taken that path, but they figured out how to make online meetings super easy on ANY device and they stuck to that vision. It wasn’t their goal to take on Microsoft Teams, Slack, or any other means of video conferencing with other tools built in. They know their strength, and they do it well.
We need to follow the example of Zoom. We need to provide our clients with a simple, straightforward solution that works on any device, especially mobile devices, remembering that the client does not need to directly interact with the solutions that drive our accounting practices. Industries that are leading examples of this approach include banking, hospitality, airline, etc., all of whom have highly usable, interactive and compelling solutions for their customers.
Keeping Pace with Evolving Back Office Tech
There is another benefit to separating your practice solutions from your client-facing solutions - the ability to change the software that drives your practice while having no change in your clients' software use or overall experience. This is key in today's software environment, where practices must constantly adapt to the every-changing technology landscape.
The Ideal Practice Approach
To address the needs of all parties involved (your firm and your clients), choose software that meets the need of each type of user. Your back office software should focus on making the firm work as efficiently as possible. Your front office software should focus on usability and accessibility for your clients - to facilitate the highest level of client interaction and engagement.
If your current software doesn't meet these standards for both your team and your clients, consider adding a single, fully integrated front end solution to the products you already use.