Relating to customers
Richard Sergeant looks at some of the most popular customer relationship management/comms tools that accountants are using to both share and capture information.
At a time when every business has had to try and make sense of how they are going to continue trading during a pandemic, the accountant has become a primary source of support and information. The impact on firms has been considerable, not least as clients try to understand the announcements from the government and what they mean for them specifically. The need to find effective ways of communicating to all clients, and then handling individual queries as they arise, has meant leaning on technology more than ever before.
While clearly not out of the woods yet, it is worth reflecting on what tools have been the most effective in case similar situations arise, and indeed to explore what could actually be the cornerstone of general communication moving forward.
As an established technology within nearly all businesses it is perhaps no surprise that email has played an important role. Ideal for communicating several key points, and providing top level detail, clients have responded well to a familiar format. Best practice has been to provide links to more in-depth information online - either the firm’s website or government source. Systems that use templates with firm branding provide impact and professionalism, as well as a robust system for sending.
Examples: MS 365, Gmail, Mailchimp
Ideal for sending out reactions and immediate responses, social media is fast and light touch. Short bursts via Twitter and LinkedIn have become a staple of communication and come with the added benefit of being seen by a wider audience. However, the biggest surprise has been the numbers using video. Clients have readily consumed updates shot on mobile phones, which has helped provide an intimacy that can be lacking in some social posts.
Examples - Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram
Given the popularity of Whatsapp for personal use it has been easy to adapt for business too. While not ideal for communicating lots of detail, messaging apps are good for quickly disseminating to specific groups and have enabled clients to talk and support each other, even when the accountant themselves isn’t around. Popular messaging apps also come with desktop versions which means you don’t have to rely on keying everything in via your mobile phone.
Examples - Whatsapp, Slack, MS Teams
Video calls are now a natural part of business life. Where once we thought going to someone’s premises was the only way, we now can tolerate all kinds of homemade setups and the intrusion of family members.
As a webinar format we have also seen effective presentations of complex information to many people at once, with the use of inbuilt Q&A tools to deal with questions as they come up.
Examples - Zoom, Google Meetings, MS Teams
CRM and practice management
Given the complexity and emotion that each client brings, making sure you are on top of what has actually been said or sent on a per client basis can provide assurance and a useful audit trail. Firms have reported using their CRM and practice management software to record general outbound messages, and an important store to keep email records and notes of phone calls next to the client record.
Examples - Senta, Accountancy Manager, Fibre CRM, Infusionsoft
The main platform for storing detailed information has been the firm website. Creating and signposting a Covid-19 hub has proved effective, and provided a central repository which is easy to find and marketable in its own right. Making use of blogs and PDFs has also proved popular, as they are easy to create and promote via social media, email and messaging apps.
Examples - Practiceweb, Squarespace, TotalSolutions
Richard Sergeant is a freelance journalist