How to Create a Client-Friendly Culture at Your Accounting Firm
According to the Hinge Research Institute, people expect a lot more from their accountants now. The survey suggests that in order to compete with automation, firms will have to focus more on client outcomes. And it all starts with building a more client-friendly culture within your firm.
Defining Your Firm’s Culture
Most accounting professionals already know that culture can impact the client experience. However, one study in the Journal of Accountancy found that accountants still struggle to define “culture” and what it means. It’s also not always easy to take actionable steps on improving your firm’s culture.
A few great questions you can ask when looking at the client experience:
- What is the staff-to-owner ratio at your firm?
- How many specialists do you have versus generalists?
- How does the staff makeup affect your services?
- What are your client demographics?
- What is the average lifecycle of a client? (And does it vary by industry?)
- What are customers saying about your firm in public?
- Do you collect client feedback on a regular basis?
- How efficient is the billing process?
- What is your firm’s average days sales outstanding (DSO)?
Using External Tools: The OCAI
Another way to understand your firm’s culture is to use an external assessment tool, like the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI). Developed at the University of Michigan, the OCAI is a research-supported analysis method for businesses of all sizes.
The OCAI sorts companies into four “quadrants” based on two dimensions:
- Internal vs. External: Does your firm focus more on internal activities like collaboration and integration? Or do you emphasize more external activities, like searching the market for trends?
- Stability vs. Flexibility: Is your firm more known for stability (planning and structure) or flexibility (adaptation and growth)?
As a general rule, accounting firms tend to focus on external matters and stability. This means that they tend to be “Compete Cultures” under the OCAI.
On the plus side, Compete Cultures attract dedicated professionals who do things fast and “play to win.” But while this approach can produce good service, the ultimate goal is to “get results” rather than to keep clients happy. More serious problems can arise if partners and associates get too competitive with each other.
Wherever you find weaknesses in your client experience, it’s important to be honest about what you see. If you can look at your firm’s culture from many angles, you’ll have an easier time making improvements.
3 Magic Ingredients for Happy Clients
As author Simon Sinek writes, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Good company cultures have a strong sense of community and shared responsibility that translates to better service. The best cultures also embrace processes that make everyone’s lives easier.
Ingredient #1: Belonging
In a recent AccountingWeb article, project manager Jacqueline Lombardo explains why belonging matters. Where diversity and inclusion are about who gets to sit at the table, belonging takes it a step further and makes people feel welcome at the table. “To have a thriving workplace culture, you need to ensure people can be themselves and express their passions and still feel like they are seen, heard, and belong in your firm,” she writes.
It’s easy to see how a workplace like that could make a client feel more at home. When there’s a culture of belonging, partners and associates will also be more open with each other and willing to help out.
Some easy ways you can improve belonging:
- Create (and track!) hiring initiatives that improve representation at your firm
- Ask for feedback on engagement and inclusion from all team members
- Make new hires feel comfortable from the start with a strong onboarding process
- Be willing to have difficult conversations about unconscious bias and culture
- Make accountability and transparency part of your core firm values
Ingredient #2: Convenience
Last year, research giant Gartner found that CRM strategy and customer process design are just as important to growth as marketing. That’s because the rise of online retail has shaped our ideas about convenience. Customers now expect speed and personalization, all at the same time.
One of the easiest ways to offer convenience is through your billing process. Clients prefer making payments online, as well as having plenty of alternative financing options. According to the 2020 WorldPay report, client-friendly payment methods like “buy now pay later” are exploding in popularity too.
At QuickFee, we offer three simple ways to help accountants streamline the billing cycle:
- PayNow: Clients can pay 24/7 by credit card, ACH, or monthly payment plan, allowing you to get paid faster.
- Installments: Clients can pay invoices in 4 interest-free installments on credit card, eliminating the need for credit checks and approvals.
- Financing: Clients receive extended credit terms between 3-12 months, while your firm gets 100% of the invoiced amount upfront.
Ingredient #3: Communication
When leaders want to improve company culture, they often add more team-building activities to the calendar. While team bonding activities do have a positive impact, it’s more important to encourage face-to-face communication within the workplace.
According to MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, communication outweighs all the individual factors in team success (like intelligence, skill level, and personality type.) The researchers found that communication improves when each teammate has regular, “high-energy” interactions with all other team members. It turns out that employees don’t need trust falls for better communication. They just need more opportunities to bond throughout the workday, whether in person or remotely.
Some of the best ways to strengthen internal communication:
- Create plenty of social and work-related channels on your company chat platforms
- Invite everyone to speak at least once during team meetings, especially on Zoom or Google Hangouts
- Avoid planning team activities where individuals could feel “singled out”
- Promote group projects and collaborative work
With a deep sense of belonging, streamlined processes, and strong internal communication, your accounting firm will be more likely to deliver the service that customers want. It’s not always easy to maintain a client-friendly culture, but in the end, the results will speak for themselves.