Your clients want long-term relationships and guidance. They’re looking for transactional help like bookkeeping, but potentially also strategic advice like forecasting and project valuations. Which means you need to prove that you can become their trusted partner.
But becoming a trusted partner isn’t so simple when you’re barely having in-person time with someone. It’s especially hard when your primary means of communicating with clients and internally with your team is email. Teams are in email every day, without fail. By improving email management, you can in turn improve client experiences.
Here are five email improvements to help accounting firms deliver better client services.
1. Get email volume under control to deliver better service
Teams are overwhelmed by email. According to a survey of over 2000 workers:
68 percent said the volume of emails they receive and send has increased over the past three years.
50 percent said they receive more than 20 extra emails each week after transitioning to remote work.
Especially for outsourced accounting firms, this volume only increases during certain times like tax season or the end of the quarter.
Outdated email practices like managing email from distribution lists or group aliases only make matters worse as there’s no clear ownership over emails (more on that later).
And when you’re working with numbers, there’s no room for error on financial statements. When you’re having trouble keeping up with email, deliverables can become outdated quickly.
The result? Your client experiences take a hit.
Many emails remain unanswered for hours. Some even slip through the cracks among the clutter and are simply forgotten.
Slow response times or no response means your client service takes a hit. You risk losing clients as a result—a distinct possibility considering that 33 percent of Americans may switch companies after one bad experience.
There’s also potential for a financial hit—a fine or penalty might come your way, or you could lose dollars by poor budgeting and forecasting.
Moving to a shared inbox model solves the problems of group aliases, reduces email volumes, and makes them more manageable with clear accountability. You and your team will feel less stressed (especially during the busier periods) and have more free time to deliver better work and client experiences.
2. Give everyone shared context for more responsive replies
Working on projects for clients requires detailed knowledge and understanding of their business and situation. Your entire accounting team also needs to be on the same page, particularly regarding the numbers and finances.
To do all this and retain clients, you need to see the complete history of your communication with them. But you can’t when the client has been emailing individual inboxes or distribution lists because you don’t know who’s replied. So you end up with multiple replies and duplicate work.
You also can’t track down any information on a team or company-wide level because there’s no analytics to tell you who responded. Shared inboxes can, once again, help. Everyone can see who’s replying to an email at any given time. This visibility reduces duplicate messages and provides transparency for anyone helping, without overwhelming their inboxes.
Your team will become more organized, respond faster to emails, and feel more relaxed, which improves the client experience.
3. Free up time by automating email triage and organization
The average employee spends more than 28 percent (over 11 hours) of their workweek on email. A big part of that involves organizing inboxes and reading email that you’re looped in on, but might not actually need to take action on. Email forwarding is especially common for accounting firms as everyone has different specialties like tax, payroll, financial statements, etc.
Wouldn’t it be easier if these messages were routed automatically? And if, by applying certain tags, you could simplify your inbox management? Most email applications have the ability to create automations to accomplish email triage and organization for you. With less time spent triaging email, reading through emails you don’t need to see, or organizing your inbox, you can spend more time on work that really matters.
4. Connect email with apps your team relies on to cut down on context switching and limit potential accounting errors
Your team may rely heavily on email for work but it’s not the only tool. You’ve probably got CRM, project management, time tracking, and communication software that you and your team reference for client conversations and use to close client books.
These tools are often specialized and require custom APIs, so they don’t always integrate properly with email. The result is complex workflows and excessive context switching to find information. Just think of all the clicking around, moving between apps, and all the open tabs.
This wastes time and can lead to incomplete tasks, accounting errors (incorrect or outdated data), and sensitive information being shared with the wrong people.
This is a huge risk. Your clients trust you with their most critical and confidential information and that the data is always accurate. Failure to safeguard their information and providing the wrong information can erode their trust—and cause you to lose their business.
5. Give clear ownership to emails to cut confusion and work more efficiently
Unfortunately, if you’re using a distribution list or group alias, there’s no way for your team to know who’s responsible for replying to an email. Two issues typically occur:
Your team sends multiple replies—maybe even with conflicting answers.
Nobody replies because everyone assumes someone already has.
Your client is either left feeling like you’re totally disorganized or that your client service is just generally poor. In both instances, the client loses trust in you, which damages the relationship—and you risk losing them as a client.
But, with clear accountability over emails, there’s no confusion over who should reply. There’s also less stress!
Shared inboxes can yet again help here. You can assign an owner to each email so that everyone knows who should reply—and avoid multiple or no replies at all.
Improve efficiency and client experiences by getting email under control
Email causes several problems for outsourced accounting firms. Email makes it hard to work efficiently, and it can cause problems with accuracy. Because of these things, client experiences suffer, too.
Improving how you manage email can solve all three challenges. By better controlling email volumes, making important emails visible, automating email triage, and giving clear ownership to emails, you’ll increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, and grow your firm.
Front is a hub for customer communication that allows companies to offer tailor-made service at scale. Since Front looks and feels like email, it’s easy for the team to collaborate on personalized communications and deliver the best responses faster.
Learn how accounting firms are making clients happier in this research with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services sponsored by Front.
Written by Nick Darlington
Originally Published: 23 December 2021