AdonousTech
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How Professional Services Thrive With Technology - A Case Study

The effective combination of technology and personal service will delight clients and increase profits

Many professionals in conservative industries such as law and accounting are inflexible and somewhat technology averse. Sure, there are some early adopters who embrace technology and use it as a unique value proposition — positioning their products or services apart from the competition. Most of these professionals are highly capable experts in their field, but struggle to translate those years of experience into repeatable mechanisms that will propel them forward in their chosen professions.

Finding a good software developer is only half the battle. After finding a developer with the requisite skills and experience, the professional must be ready and willing to take all that knowledge and experience and build something. Now is the time to embrace the coming change.

I want to drive this point home, so I’ll use a project that I worked on, that significantly changes the way a small accounting firm delivers services. This application happens to be one of the only apps in the QuickBooks Online App Store that was developed side-by-side with an actual accountant. While this example is specific to accounting, one can quickly see the utility of applying such an approach in other professional and service industries.

Here are the high level steps we took to make this a reality.

Assess the current state of the market and look for ways to solve pain points

Most professionals have an intimate understanding of their field and can quickly pinpoint the problems they face on a daily basis. For accounting and bookkeeping, we identified several prevailing themes:

  • On-boarding clients is typically painful, and needs to be more efficient
  • Clients need a quick and easy way to know the state of their books
  • Clients need clear and simple service pricing, and they need to be able to control the cost and duration of their contracted services
  • Accountants and Bookkeepers need a way to quickly and effectively communicate with their clients about specific action items
  • Clients need a single, secure location for uploading sensitive documents. 3rd party sites and applications should be avoided

On-boarding clients is typically painful, and needs to be more efficient

One benefit of servicing clients in a physical location, without technology, is the ability to control the flow of information and process. A client cannot move forward with services until the professional has a consultation and advises of next steps. The goal was to keep these guardrails in place, to ensure a smooth on-boarding experience. We worked together and came up with a quick start process, that essentially acts as a checklist. The client simply clicks on various items in the list and accomplishes each task. Most items are automatically checked off upon completion, but others are manually checked off by the accountant.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Good Books Quick Start

Clients need a quick and easy way to know the state of their books

We already knew that QuickBooks Online had a robust accounting API. Next, we had to figure out a way to easily allow clients to see the health of their books, with a single click. Our solution was to create a proprietary scoring mechanism that would automatically look at the client’s QBO account, and run a 15 point check on their books. The client would be able to see their “grade”, along with targeted feedback.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Good Bookkeeping Score

Clients need clear and simple service pricing, and they need to be able to control the cost and duration of their contracted services

For professional services such as accounting and legal, hourly pricing is currently the norm. Fortunately, that trend is changing, and flat-fee predictable pricing is quickly emerging as the preferred method of payment. For this challenge, we decided to utilize the robust Stripe API to create a state-of-the-art service selection platform. Not only can clients choose their specific monthly or one-time accounting and bookkeeping services, they can start or stop services by clicking a button. Now, the firm’s accountants no longer need to worry about creating invoices, collecting credit cards, or any other low value activities. The technology takes care of everything.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Service Selection Preview

Accountants and Bookkeepers need a way to quickly and effectively communicate with their clients about specific action items

This step required a lot of thought and iteration. Client communications is one of the most fundamental aspects of any professional service business. It is also one of the most time-consuming. We started with the premise that most communications between accountants/bookkeepers and their clients centers around specific transactions or specific issues. Here, we revisited the QuickBooks Online API and enabled the application to list entities from the client’s QBO account, for inclusion in a specific action item. The action item has a specific schema, ensuring the client will have a consistent experience across action items.

The first thing a client sees when they log in to their dashboard is a section with outstanding action items. This is a brief indication of what the accountant needs from the client, along with the date, and the name of the related service.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Client Action Item

When the client clicks on an action item, they are presented with a more detailed display.

Client Action Item detail view

Every action item has a dedicated messaging function that allows communication to occur within the action item. When a message is sent from within an action item, it is automatically appended with the ID of the action item. Clients and accountants immediately receive an email notification when an update occurs in the action item. All client emails contain a deep link directly to the detail of the action item. Related notifications can be quickly filtered in the email client by the ID of the action item.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Action Item Messaging

Certain action items are more complex. For example, if the accountant has a question about a certain transaction that may be related to an existing account, customer, vendor, etc., the accountant simply needs to indicate the entity when creating the action item. In this scenario, the client will be presented with a list of the entities pulled directly from their books. They can then 1) select the entity and provide additional feedback to the accountant; or 2) complete a form that represents a new entity to be added to their books.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Action Item Entity Detail

Finally, when the accountant determines that an action item is fulfilled, she will mark it as complete. At that time, the client will receive an email message indicating the same.

Lend A Hand Accounting | Action Item Closed

Clients need a single, secure location for uploading sensitive documents. 3rd party sites and applications should be avoided

This one is self-explanatory. After creating a killer platform, we knew it would be lame to force clients to go to a 3rd party application to upload sensitive documents. Certain clients will always prefer to email documents, but we also wanted an alternative for more tech-savvy clients. We also built a simple, secure way for accountants to share files directly with a specific client. With this system, anytime a client uploads a file, the accountant will receive a notification.

Lend A Hand Accounting | File Upload
Lend A Hand Accounting | File Portal Window

Conclusion

This project was not easy. However, I believe it is necessary to embrace this level of innovation in all professional service industries. If you are a developer or a professional services provider, I hope you are inspired to create the next big thing to move your profession in the right direction.

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Adonous Tech is atechnology company focused on #VoiceFirst #Serverless and #Cloud applications for small businesses.

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Matt Pitts

Matt Pitts

Ex Amazon Engineer and Founder of @AdonousTech. A technology company focused on #VoiceFirst #Serverless and #Cloud applications for small businesses

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