If you ask an accounting professional to tell you the main thing that’s holding them back, the answer is almost always the same. “My clients don’t send the documents we need on a timely basis.”
Receiving client documents late causes so many problems in an accounting firm! It means badgering clients, wasting valuable time keeping track of missing items, and working late nights to meet deadlines. It’s a poor experience for staff and for clients.
There is a fair bit of advice for how to get clients to comply with your deadlines. They range from making sure they understand the key role they play in getting the work done to creating penalties for non-compliance. But if you are like most accountants, you’ve tried them all and they don’t work. So what to do?
While clearly communicating the client’s role in getting great results from the relationship is always a good idea, we don’t advocate a penalty system. Instead, it’s more productive to look at the root cause of a problem and then work to create a solution for it.
To get to the root cause, you have to ask “why?” five times.
Let’s play this out with a document that is now late from a client. The scenario is that the accountant has sent a request for this document via email, and in the email they clearly outline what is needed and how to send the document to the firm using the firm’s secure portal.
The Accountant first outlines the Problem Statement:
“The client has not sent the document we asked for, and work is held up until we receive it.”
Then, they ask “WHY?” five times:
1st Why… Why has the client not sent the document we asked for?
- Because the client has not responded to our email
2nd Why… Why haven’t they responded to our email?
- Because they are busy running their business and our emails might not be a priority.
3rd Why… Why are emails from our firm not a priority?
- Because they are difficult to deal with - the client sees our email and then decides to work on it later.
4th Why... Why are our emails difficult to deal with?
- Because clients need things to be "easy." They need all the tools and convenience that they get in the rest of their personal financial lives. An easy login, a mobile app, a phone scanner, electronic signatures, all their files in one place on every device, so they can deal with things quickly while on the go. Our solution just doesn’t stack up.
5th Why.. Why doesn’t our solution stack up to what they expect?
- Because it hasn’t kept pace with the innovation in the rest of their lives. We ask our clients to upload documents to a clunky portal that can only be used when they are in the office using their computer and scanner. It makes them break from their day, instead of allowing them to respond quickly on the go. Only by putting ourselves in our clients' shoes can we understand and meet their needs.
The real root cause, using the “five whys” exercise above, is the fifth one.
Firms need to put themselves in their clients’ shoes and choose processes and technology that seamlessly fit into their clients’ busy working lives.
People want to avoid the terrible experience of breaking from their day, going to their computers, scanning documents and uploading them to difficult-to-use portals. The result is that email gets left in their inbox unopened. The chances they will find it and respond slims further each day that passes.
Your clients are not deliberately trying to hold you back!
It is important at this point in the discussion to recognize intent. Your clients really do want to work with you, and they understand how important your work is. They do want to send you those important documents. But they can’t do it from the field if your online experience is clunky, difficult to log into, spread across multiple systems, or unavailable on their phones. Instead, they are busy managing their businesses and serving their clients.
There is a better way — if you make it easy for your clients to respond, they do.
Becoming a seamless part of their day is possible with the right modern technology. If you make it easy for clients to respond to you while they are on the go, they are delighted to do so. Imagine your requests for documents coming as push notifications on their phones. They can quickly click the notifications and, (using just their phone), securely sign, scan, send or review documents for you. Imagine how much faster they would respond! We call this Client Experience 2.0™, and the best part is that firms of all sizes can easily roll this out. Staff love it too, because guess what? No more badgering, clients are happy and send documents faster, and everyone can get more work done.
We’ve assembled best practices that are tried and true — all with a goal to ensure your clients respond on the first request. This way, your firm can move faster and get more of that important work done for clients! Download this free eBook to learn more about what you can do in your practice to get clients to love to send documents to you quickly, on the first request.