This post was authored by Ryan Lazanis, CPA, CA. In 2013, Ryan founded Xen Accounting, a 100% cloud-based accounting firm. Following its acquisition in 2018, Ryan started Future Firm which provides resources and consulting to firms looking to setup an online, automated and modern firm of their own. In the second part of his series, “Power Up Your Future Firm,” Ryan will share advice and insight for how firms can leverage the latest technology and trends to propel you into the future.
Do answer your customer promptly and professionally?
Do you produce high quality work for your customers?
Do you execute your work on time?
If you answered yes to the above, congratulations, you are providing great customer service.
There’s just one problem with that. Good customer service is no longer the determining factor these days. Today, there’s something that’s far more important for bringing in business and for keeping it: customer experience.
Customer service vs. customer experience
Every firm I know on the planet says they provide good customer service and it’s what they sell potential clients on.
Unfortunately, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. Good customer service is a general expectation today. The client pays you to perform a service which is expected to be executed properly, professionally and promptly.
Customer service is defined as, “the assistance and advice provided by a company to those who buy or use its products or services.”
On the other hand, customer experience can be defined as, “the sum of all interactions between a customer and an organization.”
Since you are helping a customer when they are in need of assistance, customer service is reactive. For example, answering a client within the same day when they have a question is an example of good customer service.
Customer experience on the other hand looks proactively at your customer’s complete journey with your company and crafts an experience that is pleasurable all the way through, from the experience they have on your website all the way through to how they pay you for your service.
Good customer service is therefore a subset of good customer experience. You can’t have a good customer experience without good customer service, but you can offer good customer service without a good customer experience.
Why is customer experience important?
Providing a great customer experience is where the smart companies and firms are winning the battle today.
Need proof? Just look at the taxi industry. Uber has pretty much obliterated it.
A taxi will (generally) provide you with good service. They pick you up, open the truck to put away your bags and make small talk before dropping you off at your destination. For decades, this model worked perfectly well.
But, customers became used to this level of service and started to demand more. Why does it take 2 minutes to exchange payment? When will the car arrive? Why is it so hard to call a cab? They wanted something easier.
Uber looked at all of these inefficiencies and pain points in the customer journey and created an entirely new customer experience. In a slick mobile app, clicking a button summons a car, tracks it in real-time on your screen and automatically makes payment for you when your ride comes to an end. Rather than just looking at the car ride itself, Uber looked at every interaction in the customer journey and optimized it.
Smart companies are mapping out the ideal customer experience in every vertical and they are the ones winning the game today. Netflix with cable television. Airbnb with hotels. The accounting, bookkeeping and tax vertical is next.
As accounting tech startups raise money to capitalize on an industry that still has many slow-movers, tons of pain points and many inefficiencies, the traditional accounting firm is certainly a threatened model for those that are not starting to create a fabulous customer experience.
Changes in customer tastes and expectations means that offering good customer service is no longer enough for firms. If you take the taxi industry as an example, I would expect history to repeat itself in the accounting space eventually.
Your clients are craving a faster, smoother, more automated, easier experience. The ones that can give them that will win.
Five steps for crafting a great customer experience
A good customer experience is very much based on the feelings your customers have when they interact with you. You want those feelings to be positive and pleasurable with every single interaction. On top of that, a good customer experience today is based on how easy you make the journey for your customers. Here are a few steps to help you design a great customer experience of your own:
Step 1: Know your market
If you want to develop a great customer experience, you need to know what makes them tick, what they value, what their pain points are and what their typical customer journey looks like.
Simply put, if you don’t know the ins and outs of your market, you will never succeed in crafting a great customer experience. Consider interviewing your current or targeted customers to know what grinds their gears and to get a sense of recurring themes. That’s what I did when I first started my cloud accounting firm where I created a service offering that solved for each of those pain points.
Step 2: Identify the ultimate customer experience
Based on your understanding of your target market and based on their pain points, it’s time to think about what the ultimate customer experience will look like. What feelings do you want your customer to have as they progress through each touch point with your firm? How do you create the “Uber” experience for your customers?
You should be looking at crafting an experience that reverses many of those pain points and one that offers a seamless experience all the way through while giving your customer a “feel-good” reaction every time they “touch” your firm.
The trend today when it comes to customer experience is about just how easy you can make your customer’s life, so look at all inefficiencies in your customer’s current journey and then smooth those out.
Keep in mind though that you need to design the customer experience that your customers actually want, not the one that you think they may want. Otherwise you won’t have product-market fit and you’ll have wasted valuable time on something that doesn’t connect with your customer base. This is why step 1 is so critical.
Step 3: Map out all touch points and interactions
Next, it’s important to document every single kind of interaction your clients will have with you. Everything from the way your customers can contact you on your website, to how they receive and accept engagement letters, to how they pay for your services. Every single interaction should be mapped out and then fit into your perfect customer experience described above.
To give a really simple example, if your goal is to provide the easiest customer experience and your clients have to come into your office to sign papers, that’s going to cause a lot of friction. You would solve that particular interaction by implementing an e-signature app and training the team on it.
Step 4: Build your team around the customer experience
In my case, my firm was built around the notion of providing customers with an easy, pain-free experience. In order to deliver that, you need people that are not only customer facing and customer service oriented, but also ones that get the pain that most business owners have in their accounting. If they can understand that, then everyone is aligned.
Once you understand the customer experience that you want to achieve, design recruitment and selection of candidates around what would be important to help achieve this. You will need your team to be aligned with your customer experience.
In a past audit that I once had to go through, I would say that just about every interaction was painful. The final result was fine, but the journey to get there was awful. Part of it was a process and technology problem, but a bigger part of it were the people managing the mandate who made nothing easy. People on your team will need to understand and align with the customer experience for it to be implemented successfully.
Step 5: Implement the right technology
Finally, you’ll need the right technology in place in order for you to have a fantastic customer experience. Once you know all of your customer’s touch points, it’s time to see if there’s any technology out there that can facilitate those interactions to make them easier, smoother and slicker.
For instance, one type of interaction is having your customer email you to schedule a meeting. Then you go back and forth with at least one or multiple emails to find a suitable time. Instead, give your customers direct access to your calendar via an app like Calendly when they sign up with you so they can book an available slot whenever they please. This tool eliminates unnecessary touch points and makes the experience far easier for them.
Customer experience is key
The above demonstrates that the landscape is shifting when it comes to the service sector. Your customer does not want the same kind of interactions with your company anymore, which means that the ones that understand their needs and pain-points the most and who can craft the best customer experience around that will be the ones that win over and keep their business. The battleground will be won on the customer experience front in the years to come.
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