How to help clients go virtual when you do.
Who would have believed that the phrase “social distancing” would become an inherent part of our vocabulary?
Today, people around the world understand how important it is to stay a suitable distance from other citizens in order to minimize the deadly spread of the coronavirus.
The pandemic has changed the way we conduct our daily lives in so many ways. In the accounting world, since COVID-19 outbreak occurred right in the heart of tax season, many firms were required to make a hasty move to becoming a virtual workplace.
Throughout the coronavirus situation, it has become more and more apparent how flexible and innovative accountants can be. Beyond this, it has boldly demonstrated the clear advantages that exist for firms to maintain their status as virtual services providers when the pandemic finally subsides.
Managing the change.
A question: Is your firm one of the ones that has decided to make an immediate transition to becoming virtual as a result of what it has learned from the experiences of Covid-19?
This shift involves the need to embrace a transition from an “old school” working in the office model – where they believe employees need to go to work to truly be efficient, enjoy collaboration and experience a collegial work environment – to a remotely-based system where people perform equally as well in their virtual work space. If that is the case, it’s likely the change will be met with at least, some resistance, by some your clients. According to Jess Coburn, President/Founder of Applied Innovations, “The move to a fully remote status requires a major culture shift.”
In addition to the adjustments that staff need to make, how will you get your clients to embrace this dramatic change? It’s like that, in some cases at least, the move to virtual services will be met with some resistance.
Whether your firm becomes completely virtual, or only provides some services on a virtual basis, the process should begin with an open dialogue between you and your clients. You need to inform them that the virtual-based procedures that were used during this year’s tax season, are in fact, the wave of the future.
Reinforce with your clients how COVID-19 demonstrated the importance of being able to work outside of a traditional office setting. Mention to them that life-altering events like the recent pandemic are hard to anticipate, which is why it is so important to have systems in place that enable you to continue to employ your staff and serve clients during intense, unforeseen times of emergency.
Take the time to discuss the various productivity enhancing technologies that made it incredibly easy and efficient for your workers to work at home - even on weekends – while they were preparing returns. It is here, that you can talk about the cloud-based technology that empowered your employees with the tools they needed to collaborate efficiently, communicate on the go, and access whatever files they required with ease.
You should also spend some time chatting about how easy it was for you to “create a culture when no one was in the same room” during the workflow process. Reiterate how effective it was for you to conduct face-to-face communications with clients and employees via platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facetime – and how these are the exact tools that you intend to use on an ongoing basis moving forward.
Continue the digital conversation.
A digital conversation with your clients will pay great dividends for you. It is where you can talk about how they can transition from being paper-based to more digital as well as the advantages of going in this direction.
You need to make your clients feel comfortable about how to use technology and assure them that all of the tools you are not only scalable, but incredibly user-friendly. And if any of your clients have difficulties with the latest technology or even newly implemented cloud-based software, be sure to provide them with tutorials on how to use these tools.
Discuss the various ways your clients can transfer information to you conveniently. Give them the complete lowdown on advanced tools like portals (i.e. CCH iFirm Portal) and show them how they are as simple to use as uploading a photo on social media. And while you are at it, be sure to address any privacy concerns they may have with using portals by mentioning how safe and secure they are.
Encourage your clients to purchase scanners so that they can scan in the information you need to prepare their returns. And advise them to provide you with PDFs of their bank and credit card statements that they can easily download through online banking. This will eliminate the need for them to provide you with printed copies.
Of course, some of your clients may be resistant to sending you information this way, so you may want to have a scanner on-hand for your hold-outs that you can use to scan items such as slips you require to do their returns.
And one final suggestion you may find helpful: insist that all of your new clients only send you information digitally. That way you will only be onboarding clients that are in-sync with the way you are doing things.
There is a silver lining that lies ahead.
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 crisis will eventually come to a close. But thanks to what you have learned during this difficult time, you may be able to make a permanent shift to a virtual office if you manage the transition effectively with your clients. By doing so, you will be able to reap all kinds of tangible benefits from the move. That includes a more efficient workforce, a significant reduction in rent and an improved ability to recruit your workforce of the future.