When I think about a hierarchy of needs, my mind drifts back to entry-level psychology and Maslow’s “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow suggested that as humans satisfy their basic physiological and safety needs, they begin to move through more complex motivations like love and belonging, esteem, and eventually spirituality and altruism. I argue that there’s an application for the hierarchy of needs that applies to small accounting firms, too – the Technology Hierarchy of Needs. Technology dictates client expectations and for your firm to achieve growth and sustainability, it is important that you invest in the right kind of technology to meet and exceed client expectations.
Assess the necessities and embrace game-changing behaviors
Because we are constantly connected to one another, consumers expect businesses, especially those offering professional services, to always be “on.” As the owner of a small business, no one is more aware of this than you. You might make appointments via text at a football game, answer questions on your cell phone after stepping out of a family gathering, or hop on a video conference meeting with a client who recently moved cross-country. Many firms turn to cloud-based tax and accounting solutions to ensure data is accessible from anywhere, anytime. Investing in the appropriate hardware and software is undeniably the foundation for a strong technology-based business, but the increased accessibility of data, and mobility of devices pushes you to the next level of the pyramid: firm safeguards and security.
Implement safeguards and security
Firm safeguards and security include encryption of data at-rest and in-transit, disaster recovery plans, and offsite backups of data. Once a “nice-to-have,” security needs reside near the base of the pyramid due to legislation and compliance practices. This crucial third tier of the pyramid truly is arguably the most critical component because a single misstep may result in devastating, firm-ending catastrophes including financial penalties, lawsuits, and a damaged reputation.
Differentiate your firm
Many firms make the mistake of choosing communication tools in a way that’s introspective – they pick the tools that work best for their firm rather than for their clients. Firms adopting communication tools that benefit both them and their clients (such as easy-to-use file sharing, client portals, and electronic signatures) ultimately provide greater client experiences to facilitate the ease of doing business – a major potential differentiator from the firm next door.
Provide proactive, timely client support
As more small businesses turn to cloud-based, self-administered accounting software, accounting firms find themselves needing to build the value of their services. Many firms only react to client issues rather than anticipating their clients’ needs, which causes them to scramble to find solutions. Panicked interactions and so-called fire drills potentially strain relationships between accountants and clients. Firms that provide proactive support like checking in on clients via remote support, offering growing business insights into relevant articles, or referring business clients to individual financial advisors — easily transition from “accountant” to “trusted business advisor” and likely retain happier clients longer.
Retain and grow your customer base and your best staff
Like many people strive for meaningful lives through spirituality and altruism, the best firms look for ways to retain both their clients and their best human capital. Technologies in this tier include user-friendly and/or cloud-based time tracking applications, mobile expense reporting technology, and virtual desktops to allow work shifting among employees. Adopting technologies in this category creates flexible work environments that allow employees to become more responsive, available, and adaptable. Introducing technology to automate manual processes not only eliminates mundane tasks from an employees’ day but also allows them to focus on the work that drives more perceived client value. Improvements here not only drive client satisfaction but also staff and partner satisfaction, further driving the firm to sustainable growth and longevity.
Similar to Maslow’s pyramid, the top of the Technology Hierarchy of Needs isn’t often reached. That’s not to say that firms in the fourth or fifth tier cannot be successful, but those achieving the top tier of growth and sustainability enjoy prolonged success, fulfilled staff, and even happier clients. Whether your firm is in its infancy or well-established with a long-term client base, you can use the Technology Hierarchy of Needs to evaluate your business as it pertains to your internal and client-facing technologies.
Are you ready for the next level?