Changing clients and relationships

Changing clients and relationships

Technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, the internet of things, big data, platforms, blockchains and new ways of networking are changing the way we do business.

This technology – the core of “digital disruption” - is at varying stages of development.

But the choices regarding how it is used and when to use it are decisions that need to be made today.

For accounting practices, using these technologies to provide a one-stop-shop for clients who increasingly want personalised and real-time answers and services, is a strong proposition.

Indeed, that is what clients will come to expect. Developing cooperative models with other companies will be one way to meet this client expectation. It seems likely that client hoarding will be a thing of the past.

Keeping personal relationships with clients will clearly remain core (and become even more important as tech dominates the small things), but digital advancements will see expertise and value move beyond the office - it will be via mobile devices, chat bots, merged reality, or even augmented reality.

Keeping the human at the centre of the expert-client relationship will be critical. A new mindset is needed. Today’s ways of establishing and maintaining relationships with clients will probably not translate into the world that will exist in 10 years.

The next generation and the next

Your “millennial” clients may question the values of your business.

How do they fit with their personal values? How do you care for the environment? How do you care for trees? Should everything be online? They’re not being anti-establishment – they’re acting intuitively; this is who we raised. This applies to millennial employees as well.

How do you interact with this generation? It’s worth applying the ‘rule of eight’ which suggests that to feel understood, a client should be working with an employee no more than eight years younger or eight years older than they are.

As we’re longer-lived than our ancestors, it’s reasonable to expect to have upwards of five generations of clients - from the currently-teenaged members of Generation Z to the still-productive 80-year old members of the Silent Generation.

In the future workplace, it will be important to ensure you have the personnel to put these varying ages at ease.

Generations

Computers aren’t intelligent enough to replace us

We’re a long way from being replaced by machines. One simple way of knowing this is that computers, while possessing immense processing intelligence, struggle with other types of tasks required to successfully enable a business relationship.

Humans bring emotional, social and empathetic intelligence to a business meeting, while technology brings processing power to enable never-before-seen insights linking seemingly disparate datasets.

For the foreseeable future, computers and technology will augment the professional rather than replace him/her. This augmentation is at the heart of MYOB’s connected practice strategy, where technology enhances the value a business advisor can offer his or her clients.

But technology isn’t everything. Conventional face-to-face professional interactions that characterised the expert-client relationship in the past is giving way to consumer demands for experiences from companies who put the personal, the human at the core of how they do business.

The age of immediacy

We’re entering an age of immediacy.

We want new movies and we want them streaming now. We want Ubers and we want to see exactly how many minutes away they are. We want to apply for a loan and know straight away whether we’ve been successful. We want to download a book or listen to music or pay someone back or get paid from someone … right… now.

This need for immediacy is yet to strike our industry fully, but it will happen. It will be the business owner expecting her accountant to be on-call when she needs them. It’s unlikely that organising meetings for three weeks’ time will suit the expectations of the business owner of the future.

Technology will take an ever-increasing role in processing data, while business advisors will be freed to focus on the client relationship – exploring opportunities and nurturing long-term relationships.

A digitally-empowered consumer

As knowledge becomes more democratised and easily accessible via the internet, the notion of expertise is shifting and will likely reshape the relationship between accountant/bookkeeper and client.

Here, the power has moved to the client, to the consumer of services. They expect to be able to access services and product now, in a hyper-efficient way – with technology taking care of the boring, routine tasks, and business advisors assisting when specific advice is needed.

Chatbots can already interact with consumers – Apple’s Siri is one example - and as artificial intelligence continues to develop, providing routine advice will likely be an interaction between chatbot and client.

A digitally-empowered consumer means practices may need to reframe their engagement model. Helping people identify what information matters to them and how to access and use it may be at the centre of how you design your services in the future.

In their book The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts, authors Richard and Daniel Susskind argue that the democratisation of professional knowledge will lead to more people having access to accounting and financial services than is currently possible.

Relationships, not transactions, will drive the practice of the future.

The connected practice realised

With compliance and transactions dealt with increasingly by automated technology, a firm’s focus will likely move to advising clients on how to make the best use of their time and providing access to information that creates value for them.

One critical technology-enabled milestone will be reached when the client no longer initiates activity. In most cases today, the client drives interactions between themselves and their business advisors: I want to make a business decision and need help; I want to get my tax sorted; I’ve made a mistake in my accounting and need assistance fixing it up.

At some point, there will be a shift whereby technology will alert the business advisor ahead of time to engage with their client proactively. This paradigm shift –characterised by the client saying to their advisor: “I was just about to reach out to you” – will represent a new age of client/advisor relationships.