Client Service is a multi-faceted word, much like branding. Individuals have an easy time talking about the topic but actionable steps are hard to explain. What’s Client Service? “Er, well, what isn’t client service?” Every e-mail, phone call, and client facing activity is client service, and it’s typically only brought to your attention when things have gone bad.
Many non-accountants do not realize how much of the profession relies on information. Information that is not easily googled, photoshopped, or researched. Rather, it is the financial output of business activities of over 30 million businesses just in the US (all of which have to file tax returns). It’s the accountant’s job to capture that information and translate it into things called financial statements. All that data requires the US to have 1.7 million external accountants to handle it. That number doesn’t include corporate controllers, A/R clerks, or data entry specialists.
Just looking at public accountants, that gives an approximate 17:1 ratio of businesses to external accountants. Insert client service.
How do accountants get the information they need in order to translate this deluge of data into financial statements? Try:
Cloud File Sharing
Until the advent of cloud-based accounting platforms, this job was even more difficult than it is today. Yet still, adoption rates for such technologies are slow. Creating accessible systems and databases to handle the epic amount of data by some of the largest companies in the world is an immense task. So for now the big guys primarily rely on sending thousands of emails and tracking statuses in excel spreadsheets. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. I know because I used to do it. Which brings up a great point, how do you stay on top of all this information? What do you need, what you do have, is it time to follow up? Try:
More To-Do Lists
Microsoft unintentionally created the best organizer in our digital world, the spreadsheet. Often used for lists, hardly used for calculations. I used to have post-its on my desk that would pile up like kipple. Of course there’s loads of software out there to handle these problems, but bloated CRMs are the last thing accountants need. Mention collaboration software to an accountant and they’ll either give you a confused look or laugh. Adoption rates by clients are horrifying low. Designers act like they’re the mistreated step sisters of the professional world. Have you met an accountant?
I spent years of my professional life as an auditor asking clients nicely for pdfs, spreadsheets, and answers to my 8 different questions about journal entries. I’d then spend the next 8-72 hours either constantly checking my inbox, sending reminder emails, making phone calls and clarifying the report they sent at the 72nd hour said ’09 instead of ’10. All in effort to efficiently manage the information I needed just to do my job. Did I deliver good client service? Hard to say, but I did deal with a lot of very unhappy clients who never wanted to be bothered.
After our demo day pitch several months ago, my partners and I hit the lobby ready to chat with whoever would give us a shot. I had 4 cups of coffee and two donuts to get myself ready to track down any VC I could find. But much to our surprise, we found ourselves being flooded by interested customers. Accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, and even VCs wanted to talk about using Sqrl at their firm. The concept of tracking down important information from others is not new or unique. It exists in the day-to-day lives of many professionals, and always recognized as something “I’d rather not spend time doing.” Not because we don’t love our clients, but because we want to spend time adding value, not asking for the stuff we need to provide it.
That’s why we work on Sqrl, and that’s why we’re trying to change the way people request and receive information. Because whether you’re the soccer coach who needs t-shirt sizes from 20 sets of parents, the lawyer performing due diligence, or the accounting firm with 567 outstanding items on your PBC list, collecting information is always a pain. And we believe we’ve found a better way to do it.