Why the cloud can help accountants with practice management

A key task for accountants is managing a client list. Learn how customer management software and working in the cloud can help you do this.

Practice management is one of the core tasks of any accounting firm.

This ranges from ensuring you provide clients with the very best levels of service to the purely administrative task of ensuring your client lists are kept up to date.

Poor handling of clients, for example, can unnecessarily add to your practice’s admin burden and lead to dissatisfaction among the people you are working for.

Being more organized by using something such as customer relationship management (CRM) software can bring transformational benefits to a practice in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.

Here are some examples:

  • With contact details always easily at hand, you can quickly get in touch with clients for marketing purposes, or any other communication.
  • Colleagues no longer have to ask around to find vital details about a client, such as who last spoke to them, what was said at that time, or what work was done.
  • There’s less of a need to remember separate logins for different systems, and to manually transfer data between systems, because everything is in one place.
  • Much more data about clients can be retained, including individual communications, which allows you to provide a more personalized, professional and responsive service for clients — and allows any colleague to pick up on work tasks just by viewing this data.
  • You can implement industry-standard security for client data, something that’s mandated by data protection legislation like GDPR, which says privacy should be by design and not a secondary thought.
  • You’re not up against the limitations of technologies like a spreadsheet or Word document which, while useful for many tasks, aren’t really designed to be a store for lots of discrete information.

Without proper practice management, you’re reducing the overall level of professionalism that your clients experience each time they contact you and fundamentally limiting the services you can offer.

Good practice management can be the foundation forming the very best platform on which to run your practice.

Customer-driven approach

Although its genesis was within sales-driven environments, nowadays customer management software is used wherever there’s a need to manage any kind of customer data.

Such software can help bring together multiple systems, provides richer data storage, and is more intuitive and efficient to use.

Crucially, the software ensures by design that the customer — or client, in the case of accountants — is at the center of your practice.

It makes it impossible not to focus on and respond to client needs.

Our research, The Practice of Now, reveals that an overwhelming majority of accountants (83%) believe clients expect more from them today in terms of services and resources than they did five years ago.

Basing your client management around customer management software is an ideal way of ensuring you’re ready to meet client expectations.

Therefore, this type of software can be revolutionary.

It can periodically remind you to contact clients on any topic — including but not limited to accounting crunch times — and can also provide a thorough method for your practice to keep notes about each and every client contact.

This makes it easy to add the personal touch each and every time.

But there’s another reason to embrace this approach: new client acquisition. It’s getting harder to both keep and please clients, and The Practice of Now research also showed that a majority of accountants (67%) feel the profession is more competitive than ever (with only 7% disagreeing).

Track potential leads

Customer management software can help you provide the level of interaction and service your clients demand, whether it’s your existing clients or new ones.

And it can really will deliver results in terms of the ease of tracking potential new leads.

Most practices have something of a deficit in terms of new client acquisition — if the processes even exist — so embracing customer management software can be a way of killing two (or more) birds with one stone.

Above all, good customer management software means there’s once source of client data, rather than it being spread across multiple systems or spreadsheet documents.

Because of this the data is always up to date, which means you can also get a live view of not just your clients but also your firm.

You can easily see what to focus on and make faster as well as better-informed decisions.

All of this is especially significant if your customer management software ties in with a practice management software package and there’s a seamless flow of data.

Yet the value is even more than mere convenience or ease of use. Because your time is freed up, you’re able to focus on those lucrative value-added services for your clients that are so vital in today’s accounting landscape and which mark you out from the crowd as having value for your customers.

You’re creating a platform to run your practice.

Looking at the benefits

So, what are the benefits of a customer management software-driven approach through cloud software along with practice management software that seamlessly connects to it?

Here are some examples.

Unified client list

You have just one live client list that’s always up to date.

Because it’s stored in the cloud, this is accessible by multiple staff members simultaneously, and across a wide range of computing devices and in any location there’s an internet connection.

Key dates management

Key dates can be created and tracked for each client to ensure you keep on top of deadlines.

These might relate to client accounting periods but can relate to any event, such as one that’s important to the industry that your client is in (seasonal variations, for example) in order to provide timely business advice.

Note-taking and discussion

You can take notes whenever any client contact is made, either by you and your staff, or if your client makes contact with you.

Think of it like seeing a doctor, where they will always make notes of what you say to them so they can rely upon those notes if required in future.

Now your practice can have the same in-depth insight into your clients and their concerns. You can even attach files to a client’s file, such as PDFs or spreadsheets.

Contact management and email integration

A good customer management software package will integrate with your other office apps to ensure you can integrate your existing contacts database, and also both log emails as well as let you create and send them from within the customer management software itself.

This will save a massive amount of time and create a super-efficient workflow. Most often this means integration with Outlook and other apps within Microsoft Office.

Single platform to access all of your clients

This goes for their bookkeeping and compliance services, too — all in one place. No longer will you have a need to run multiple systems with different logins.

Everything can be run from one platform to deliver a great client experience with the latest information always available.

Manage client software subscriptions

A good customer management software set up will support the digitalization of your practice and the moving of your clients to the cloud.

It will make it easier to for you to manage access rights and integrate all of your data under one platform.

Logging all client details

While a spreadsheet might have inherently limited the number of details you can record about a client, within customer management software you can record any details you want by simply creating a new data field — financial or otherwise.

Beyond all this, however, a customer management software-based approach to client management moves the client right to the heart of your workflow.

Their data is always available and it is always up to date regardless of who in your team last made contact with the client.

As a result, it becomes easy to move your practice in the direction of adding more value for your clients and being their trusted adviser.

Making the switch

There’s never been a better time to move over to a customer management software-based approach. Your practice needs it but so do your clients.

Here are the steps that define some best practices.

1. Evaluate the options

There’s a variety of customer management software-based approaches you can take but a vital feature is to ensure whichever solution you choose integrates fully with your practice management solution and all other apps used throughout your practice — and potentially with your client’s accounting systems too.

Additionally, a good customer management software solution will allow you to add-in extra functions via an app marketplace.

These might not relate directing to accounting but could, for example, better integrate DocuSign within your practice workflows, or help you send out marketing emails.

2. Set aside time and resources to adapt

There’s no doubt that switching from a manual spreadsheet-based client data management process to a fully cloud-based customer management software system will take time and resources.

This in itself might seem like a block to progress but there’s a simple solution.

Commit to switching a certain number of clients each week. This can be a trivial amount initially to enable you to learn the ropes and anticipate any problems.

Assuming you have an existing contract with your client then you have a legitimate reason to process their data, so even under GDPR there should be no need to request permission to move their data to a new system.

3. Use the opportunity to build relationships

However, the above doesn’t mean you can’t use the opportunity of switching to a customer management software-based system as an excuse not to make fresh contact with clients.

You might need to do this to gather new data, or at least check to ensure the old data is still correct and relevant, but it’s also a chance to ensure the client is aware of the range of services you offer.

And as for telling them you’re upgrading to new and improved technology, well, that’s simply good PR.

Aim to migrate clients at a steady rate that’s best for your business.

Even just a few per week is healthy progress. Aiming to migrate all clients at once might be too ambitious, and the last thing you want is to cause problems for your clients.

Final thoughts

Your practice needs effective client management. Your staff will thank you in terms of efficiencies and your bottom line will show results almost immediately.

Your clients will see better service and there’s never been an accountancy practice that’s gone out of business because it provided the services that its clients needed.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2018 and has been updated for relevance.