Many businesses are wary of automation and artificial intelligence dehumanising client relationships. Larissa Feeney, Founder and CEO of Accountant Online, says, however, that embracing this new technology will lead to more meaningful and personal interactions with your customers.
Many owners of small – and even bigger – practices feel that automation or artificial intelligence (AI) has no role to play in their workplace, worrying that it can lead to a dehumanisation of work practices that will result in a poor connection with clients.
However, I believe that the introduction of digital practice management and ‘lean’ systems – minimising waste while maximising productivity – can streamline and grow your business, as well as help build more lasting relationships with your clients.
Larissa Feeney, Founder and CEO of Accountant Online
When we established our business 10 years ago, one of our aims was to systemise as many processes as possible, including tasks that used to be manual, such as emails to clients, record collection and payroll. We looked at every process to see what could be automated.
At that time, there was a fear across the industry that automation and the use of AI could result in a less personalised service. The fear that robots will take over our jobs and clients will pay less for automated services is still prevalent even now; however, we have found the opposite – AI frees up the team to give better service to clients.
Over the past 12 months, we have implemented lean principles (value, the value stream, flow, pull and perfection) across our own business. This has cut down on the administration and support functions that are needed which means the core team can focus on servicing clients better.
This freedom allows you to build a real and lasting relationship with clients, making you part of their team rather than an external service that could be completed by anyone. It creates a different relationship entirely; you become more like a trusted advisor rather than a bean counter processing numbers. Importantly, clients will like the fact that you are putting in more time thinking about their business strategically rather than spending time on processes that could be automated.
How to implement a lean structure
There are quick and easy savings to be made by implementing a lean structure for any business at any stage.
For instance, one of the processes we implemented under our lean structure was examining a simple task that would take three days over the course of the month to complete. We have now automated that process and it takes one member of the team one second to press one button.
Another easy win has been the automation of emails to clients. I did struggle when we started to automate emails – and sometimes I still do. I wanted to keep that personal contact with each and every client. However, as the business grew, I knew it was impossible for that to continue; instead of spending all my time writing out personalised emails, I can spend time in other crucial areas of the organisation.
Both simple automations outlined above have saved team members’ time that can now be focused towards building a personal, meaningful relationship with clients and putting their priorities first, which is the cornerstone of good customer management.
This article first appeared in Accountancy Ireland.
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Larissa is a Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) and is the CEO of Accountant Online, which specialises in company formation, company secretarial, annual accounting services, bookkeeping, tax, and payroll services for micro and small companies in Ireland and the UK.