At a glance
Accountants on hourly rates know every productivity gain equates to an increased margin in the hip pocket. There are two trends on their side: an innovative boom in productivity tools which, in turn, has coupled with a growing desire among clients to meet remotely rather than in the office.
There are many new ways to save time, increase the quality of client relationships, and improve the way you take and manage file notes.
Appointment scheduling software can eliminate the need to use multiple emails to lock in a client meeting. Instead of an email outlining alternative times and dates, it is now possible to send a client a link to your appointment scheduling tool. This is effectively a calendar broken into different time slots for each day you are working. The client then chooses a slot that fits their calendar and both parties receive a calendar invite with the details of the meeting.
The greatest stumbling block is properly setting up the tool, as it requires selecting the hours of each weekday you are willing to take clients’ calls. Some practitioners fail because they have never thought about segregating hours by the type of work involved.
Even so, give it a go. You will need to adjust your availability in the app as you decide which times work best for you. Once you have confidence in the process, there is the option of turning the initial email exchange into a chargeable consultation.
Calendly, Book Like A Boss, and Acuity are three prominent tools in the category and cost A$5 to A$70 a month. More expensive plans incorporate features such as multiple appointment types, the ability to receive payments during the booking process, calendars for staff and even private conference rooms.
Video calls come of age
Use of Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts is increasingly common in the office. Google Hangouts Meet and Microsoft’s Skype for Business include video conferencing as part of their productivity suites and are effective for internal communications, especially managing remote teams.
However, they are not as fully featured or easy to use as dedicated alternatives such as Zoom and GoToMeeting, which include call recording, remote control of a user’s screen, and use of an on-screen whiteboard to sketch ideas.
Recording video calls have several advantages, not least of which is all parties have an exact record of what was said, rather than guessing from a call summary in file notes.
Build Live Give founder Paul Higgins, a corporate coach who experiments regularly with productivity tools, uses video meetings to improve the quality of client notes. The audio file of a recorded meeting is uploaded to an AI-powered transcription service called Otter.ai, after which the audio and transcription is saved to the client’s customer relationship management (CRM) file.
“Often, if I’m doing a proposal, I’ll take notes but find I haven’t got the nuance of it,” Higgins says. “So, I’ll go back and get their exact language [from the transcript or audio].”
Messaging makes its mark
Corporate video messaging is also taking off. Apps such as Bonjoro and Dubb record a video message and insert it in an email to a client. According to Higgins, clients tend to comment, give a “thumbs up” or email a “thank you” for the video.
To the camera-shy, he advises: “It’s no different to being in the office [with your client]. Just talk in the same way as if they were sitting in front of you.”
He also recommends daily practice. Record a video each morning and send it to yourself, family or staff until you feel comfortable talking to clients.
Testing times for text
Unfortunately, increased text messaging in business is creating problems for professional services of all stripes.
“Partners are saying to me, ‘How do we capture text message instructions from our clients?’” notes Alan FitzGerald, founder of PracticeConnections, a technology consultancy for accounting firms. A simple screenshot is often not enough; it can’t always capture who the text message is from, the time it arrived and the full text of the request.
However, online apps such as iMazing can export iPhone text messages and attachments to a computer, which can then be saved to a client file.
Think smart offline
In a world where the number of screens and hours spent online keeps increasing, there are nonetheless productivity tools to support offline modes of work. Many accountants still prefer a sheet of paper on which to jot down client conversations. The good news is that this approach no longer commits you to filing cabinets brimming with file notes.
Smart notebooks look and feel similar to lined A4 but use special pens and clever markings to transmit handwritten notes to online storage. Rocketbook, Elfinbook and even Moleskine have released smart notebooks that typically cost A$30 to A$70.
Rocketbook, one of the best known in Australia, comes with a companion mobile app that takes a photo of your notes and saves it as an image to Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive, OneNote, Slack, Box, iCloud, iMessage or email. It uses optical character recognition to search for the image by name or even text in the image itself.
“You can bundle all your meeting notes with a client over time as a single PDF,” FitzGerald says. “Instead of notes residing in a [paper] notebook where no one can see them, they’re stored in one spot online for your team and backed up as well.”
Livescribe adds technology to the pen itself. The US$100 pen transmits scribblings online and can even record the audio of the conversation (after you have permission, of course).