Transform accounting services staff into a client advisory mindset
Transforming your practice to a consultative mindset requires you to transform your firm’s most important asset: your people! This requires you to educate them on not only how to take a more consultative approach to customer interactions, but also the “why,” so they truly understand the benefits and can articulate them to customers.
We have found that adding “advisory” to traditional accountancy services can be accomplished by promoting learning organization concepts that develop specific advising skills, including facilitation, engagement management, and relationship building. rain, in addition to the scalable technical skills required to serve traditional Accounts Receivable Services (CAS) customers. Most company staff are not born with a consultative mindset, they need to learn how to be business advisors, so companies need to proactively educate team members on the skills key technical and advisory.
Learning organization concept
Let’s start by talking about the development of learning organization concepts and their particular importance in traditional customer service accounting practices. Most CAS practices focused on managing client engagements using a limited number of accounting products that firm staff had honed their knowledge of over years, if not decades. With the exception of live payrolls, much of this work was quite rote, repetitive, after the fact, and new capabilities and features added by accounting vendors were incremental during this time, so they could be adopted relatively easily.
However, over the past decade, significant advancements in technology and internet accessibility have centralized accounting information platforms in the cloud, opening up a whole new world of innovation, accelerating the addition of new features at an ever-increasing pace. This technological acceleration has opened the door to today’s client accounting and advisory practice (CAAS) which focuses on business information of the future as well as reporting of the past.
Knowledge of one or two accounting and payroll products is no longer enough; Today’s environment requires accountants to understand application integration, data visualization (dashboards), machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) to build the accounting insights platform of today. To keep up with this ongoing change, accountants will need to be committed to continuous and lifelong learning, which can be accomplished by structuring their practices into learning organizations that promulgate both the skills of advising clients and developing skills. technical application needed to build the accounting information platform.
Key components of the learning organization
Past studies have indicated that end users who have not received comprehensive training take up to six times longer to reach the same level of proficiency than properly trained users. These studies found that training in documented best practices also reduced the number of ineffective/bad habits that insufficiently trained users often adopted along the way as they tried to “figure things out”. This further underscores the importance of creating comprehensive company-wide training. Becoming a learning organization with a consultative mindset requires companies to make a conscious effort to identify and educate company personnel on best practices, application capabilities and consulting skills, which can be done with the following process:
1. Identify skills: The first step towards developing consulting skills is to identify the expertise that exists within the company. This is done by discussing previous engagements where your staff helped a client improve the delivery of their accounting information or streamline a business process. We suggest that you pay particular attention to services rendered in existing niches where the company would be able to take advantage of the experience gained from similar clients. The other element of the identification of expertise relates specifically to the applications used by the company, which constitute the “technology stack” of the company. Start by creating a list of all supported apps in the firm and for clients, then identify the firm’s expert(s). These app champions will be tagged to educate other members of the firm as well as for further exploration and education of that app’s capabilities.
2. Identify the need: The next step is to identify the training needs that will serve as the basis for the company’s learning program. Consulting, rainmaking, and project management skills should be included in the training curriculum, along with the technical requirements for the applications that make up the company’s technology stack. Application training needs can be determined by asking your staff to rate their skills on the applications they use to perform their jobs and identifying areas where they would like additional training. These items should be indexed by enterprise application champions who will be responsible for documenting specific feature best practices so they can be used for training.
3. Developing skills: There has never been more end-user information and virtual learning resources available to businesses than there is today. Companies should support the development of expertise by having their champions participate in webinars and vendor user conferences in addition to keeping up to date with industry readings. These champions should be made available to staff as needed and provide training both formal, such as employee onboarding, and informal through open discussions, such as lunch and learn sessions. Best practices indicate that companies provide champions with credit for billable hours to document best practices and assist company staff, so this is treated as equal to client work.
4. Documentary expertise: Best practices also indicate that companies document these practices in searchable PDF files and record training sessions via video, so they are available for future hires and training reminders. Capturing your expert’s knowledge not only helps the company set standards to hold staff accountable, but documents that expertise in perpetuity in the event the expert is unavailable.
5. Promote know-how: Discussing successful engagements or capability adoptions with team members and asking them what other clients could benefit from helps the firm promote its consulting expertise. We’ve found that regular “water cooler” and “lunch and learn” chats help team members adopt a consultative mindset. Targeting two or three lessons learned with open discussions allows users to learn more effectively than one-day sessions.
Clearly, the transformation of the accountancy profession towards a more consultative orientation is already well underway. Adopting a learning organization approach will help ensure that your business develops a comprehensive customer counseling mindset.
Roman H. Kepczyk is the Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and consults exclusively with accounting firms across North America to implement today’s best practices and digital technologies. In addition to being CPA.CITP, he is a Lean Six Sigma black belt and integrates Lean Six Sigma methodologies to help companies optimize their production flows.