In the realm of accountancy firms, for years now we have heard the constant refrain; Compliance services are being commoditised, cloud accounting has disrupted the market and clients are more informed and sophisticated. To survive, accountancy firms must bring “value added” services to their clients, delivering forward looking advisory, as clients are able to do more and more themselves.
The same talk takes a different form in the legal market. “Robo-lawyers” will remove the need for a qualified professional, we are told, by providing that direct link between a client query and the answer, derived from the applicable legislation. Once again, to survive the lawyer must be the trusted advisor beyond what can be handled in house with more and more sophisticated and automated tools.
So, it seems we’re all agreed that the way we deliver our services needs to change, to service the client of the future. What does this mean practically though? I think there are many rungs on the ladder to climb, by professional services firms and by clients, before we reach this utopia.
Let’s take the “valued added” services example. At Ecovis, we are attacking the question of how we do this with our data analytics service offering. Truly, alongside our more recognisable accountancy, tax and advisory services, we are unlocking value from our clients’ operational data and leveraging applicable external data to dramatically enhance the toolkit available to business managers. Financial reporting data is merely one source that we can use and our insights are helping our clients to make impactful daily decisions, to predict customer behaviour, plug holes and capitalise on opportunities.
There are many other rungs to climb and each step takes us closer to that future. As another example, interactions. How do your clients interact with your employees to consume their services? Compare it with how you interact with your dentist, your plumber, your hairdresser, your car insurance provider. Text message reminders for your appointments, automated invoices on job completion (pay with your smart phone), log into your portal to access all of your (latest) documents.
I think this experience needs to be addressed by the majority of firms. Clients will expect their services to feel more like a product; a dashboard showing progress, tax returns issued with accompanying payment instructions through one portal, automated payment reminders. They may expect no longer to know who’s handling their account and who’s on the team; rather, they will just want to know that the job gets done, and gets done well.
In reality, I think the client of the future will want their quality, advisory-led service delivered through the most low-maintenance experience possible. This means truly proactive advisory, product-like offerings (automate what can be automated), multi-discipline (for how long will accountancy and law be separate?), and when they do need to ask questions, client queries handled like service tickets with guaranteed response times and status trackers.
There’s no sense in aiming for utopia on day one. Take incremental steps up the ladder and focus on really delivering those changes step by step. Improve this service process or that communication method, expand that service offering. While you’re doing this the market will keep shouting at you about what’s new and what’s going to change the world…don’t get too distracted by every latest shiny thing!