Remember life before email? It was a simpler time, yes. A slower-paced era. One where turnaround times on queries were measured in hours or even days. ‘Same day’ responses were considered fast.
In this era of instant messaging your clients’ expectations regarding response times are often measured in minutes and most certainly in hours not days. Email has become a central communication tool for accounting firms and bookkeeping businesses.
But email has become a rod for our own backs, hasn’t it? It’s a never-ending challenge to stay on top of your email inbox.
Business owners should know how well their team is managing their email inboxes.
- Are they getting to ‘Inbox Zero’ by the end of each day?
- Are emails falling through the cracks?
- Are clients frustrated by slow turnaround times to their emails?
If you’re relying on email as a client support tool, you don’t really know the answers to these questions.
That’s because each person’s inbox is a silo of information that only the inbox owner sees. (Sure, it’s technically possible to log into team members’ mailboxes, but that’s cumbersome and techy.)
These inboxes as information silos present high risk and low control for the managers and owners of the business.
When you look across industries outside of accounting and bookkeeping it’s clear we are now entering an era where email is being phased out as a central customer or client support tool.
There are five reasons a professional services business should consider ditching email for supporting your clients:
The reasons are:
- Transparency: Email is not transparent across the firm, meaning that managers are unable to look across multiple inboxes to have an easily viewable and searchable master inbox of emails. Emails relating to the one client could be in multiple peoples’ inboxes, and then within subfolders in each inbox. It’s a labyrinth.
- Leakage: Emails can tend to fall through the cracks because the firm is relying on each individual to manage their email inbox well. Emails can get buried and forgotten, deep in an inbox.
- Status: Emails do not require a decision to be made on the status of a query or matter. Does an email still sitting in an inbox mean the matter is still Open? Or does it mean the matter is Pending, awaiting a response from the client? Or has it just been left sitting in the inbox? Does a red flag mean Important? Or does it mean the email requires action by the inbox owner? Or does it mean the query is Pending with the client? And do different people in your firm or business have a standardised approach to their use of their inbox and its various features such as flags and folders. In my experience consulting to hundreds of firms around Australia and New Zealand, probably not.
- Statistics: This lack of a structured Status tracking mechanism in email systems means that it’s not possible to get service quality statistics such as: What is the average initial response time to an email? What is the average number of days before a received email is resolved and marked as Closed? Who in your team is responding to emails promptly? Who is resolving queries quickly? Who is slow on both of these fronts? Who has a backlog of Open and Pending queries and just lets them build up, always leaving the ball in the client’s court and never following up with them? Email cannot tell you these things. Management should know this information.
- Real-time Collaboration: Imagine if, as you were typing an email, a message popped up and said, “This client John Smith also emailed your colleague Betty Jones about this same matter,” or “Betty Jones is replying to John Smith right now. Are you sure you want to also reply?” How cool (and efficient!) would that be! It would avoid double-up responses with clients and potential embarrassment. It would also save your team members’ time. Or imagine if your email system instantly displayed a list down the right-hand side of the screen of that client’s recent sent and received emails from across the entire firm. Imagine how useful that would be in a firm where more than one colleague were communicating with the same clients. The left hand would truly know what the right hand was doing.
In my view, the days of email as a support tool are numbered. The most progressive accounting and bookkeeping firms are now starting to adopt the alternatives. I could probably count on one hand how many fims in Australia and New Zealand are using these.
So what are the alternatives?
Is it help-desk software that technology companies and large corporations tend to use? Things like Zendesk, Desk, UserVoice, GetSatisfaction, RightNow and the like?
Those tools are too clunky and impersonal, especially for small and medium accounting firms and bookkeeping businesses to use.
And in my experience, you’re not going to get your clients to stop sending “reflex emails” off to your firm anyway.
There is a brand-new breed of helpdesk software that solves all five of the issues above, but which does not require your clients to change their behaviour in terms of sending you emails. (Changing clients’ behaviour = Difficult!)
Some of these apps can also monitor social media as well, such as mentions in Twitter and Facebook. They offer progressive firms more control and the ability to further improve the client experience they provide.
In the next instalment of this 2-part article, I’ll share with you these apps, some of which are still in private beta – this is a very new technology area.
What are your firm’s challenges with email, in terms of providing good (or preferably, great!) client support?
Read on for part 2 to find out which helpdesk applications are best suited to small businesses.
Share your experiences and thoughts about the pros and cons of email in the Comments area below.