Google the phrase “those who love change” and guess what pops up – tons of articles explaining why people do not do like change.
Even when it is for beneficial reasons, change brings resistance. Take the example of Accounts Receivable Services (CAS). A recent survey found that SMEs that outsource accounting have more time to focus on their business and better understand their financial performance. Yet onboarding CAS customers quickly can be a challenge for accountants. Transformation often requires new processes, tools and technologies for customers. While intellectually SMEs know what is going on, many are still struggling to get there.
Having a formal onboarding process for moving clients into a CAS program helps minimize the challenges that come with this change.
Top Challenges for CAS Integration
Based on experience, there are three main reasons why customers may be hesitant about CAS processes and technologies, especially those that transform their day-to-day business practices, such as moving to outsourced paperless accounting.
First, necessary changes – such as implementation and training – take time and disrupt daily operations. SMEs often have limited time. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day. Second, the invisible nature of a virtual CAS process is difficult for some people to grasp, as human beings are slower to trust what they cannot see and touch. Finally, the learning curves can be long. It takes time to establish new habits.
For these and other reasons, it’s important to remember that upgrading to a new service or system isn’t about the platform, it’s about the people involved in the migration.
Creating your onboarding process
Once your company has established its CAS offering, including services and all related technology components, develop a formal process for transitioning customers to the program.
An effective onboarding process follows five steps:
- Identify common practices that customers use before outsourcing and map those functions to the new model.
- Navigate change by highlighting steps that can be eliminated in new workflows to help customers appreciate the overall results. Also explain the need for new or additional measures that could be introduced to illustrate their importance.
- Seek help from your technology partners. They can offer best practices in educating and training customers on the various systems that are part of your CAS offering. Most are eager to work with companies to ensure their customers take full advantage of what their platforms can do.
- Establish what resources are needed for each step of the process, both within the company and from the customer.
- Target timelines for every step of the process, from initial conversions and data transfers to implementing new workflows and system training.
Establishing and enforcing a formal, standard process for onboarding new customers benefits both those customers and the business. By establishing a transition plan and following the same steps each time, companies can anticipate customer questions and the day-to-day obstacles that arise. This allows the company to quickly address these questions and obstacles or avoid them altogether.
Four tips for a successful integration
Using a consistent process fosters a sense of trust in your services. Along the way, customers can quickly gain trust in your business and its expertise, which strengthens their buying decision. You can also improve integration with these four tips.
Customers want to know what the process will entail, including the steps they need to take and a timeline for when changes will occur. Be clear with your customers early in the onboarding process about what to expect and refer to those expectations as needed throughout their transition. This will help minimize misunderstandings and miscommunications that are otherwise common during this process and can lead to frustration and unnecessary delays.
Once you’ve begun their transition, the onboarding process should include formal training on not only what you’re doing, but also why. Educate your customers so they understand that the changes are helpful. If they’re going through a lot of changes at once, it’s helpful for them to understand why they need to do what you’re asking them to do.
Educating your customers is an ongoing effort. Showing patience will strengthen your commitment to them and foster a sense of loyalty from them, even when there are bumps in the road.
Focus on the workflow
Remember that migrating to an outsourcing model, especially a virtual one, not only requires new systems, but also a new way of thinking for most customers. Rather than devoting the most attention to technology, focus on people and workflows.
Start with brainstorming sessions to help customers figure out, for example, where all their bills come from. Many don’t even realize what is happening today in their current environment, as items can come from a variety of sources and channels. Once these are identified, document what is happening and map the process so that when outsourced or virtual, customers retain their understanding of exactly what is happening. It is essential to define everyone’s role and ensure that everyone involved is clear about their individual responsibilities. Formalizing the process by documenting the agreed-upon workflow and even requiring sign-off from everyone involved will provide a reference to refer to when issues arise.
Integration does not stop when a customer is up and running with a virtual system. Change is difficult, even for those who accept it at first. Many people, especially long-time employees working for your client, may back out simply because it’s their comfort zone. Stay close and provide ongoing support and training to customers who need it.
Some companies implement some sort of reward system for new customers, where employees are thanked and praised for their adoption efforts. Celebrate milestones, such as monthly or quarterly close or achieving 100% compliance in using the new process and systems, to help reinforce the behaviors you want.
Jason Blumer and his partner run Blumer & Associates, CPAs and have done so for nearly 15 years. The company was one of the first to move from a traditional office to a virtual environment, where it serves various creative service niches. He and his associate have a strong focus on business coaching and advising businesses and agencies, while their team responds to the client’s technical and compliance needs. Jason is co-host of two podcasts, Thrivecast and The Businessology Show, and speaks and writes frequently for creative agencies. He was honored as one of the 100 most influential people in accounting (Accounting Today).
Jane Willis is vice president of marketing, accounting channel, for Bill.com. As a strategic marketing manager, she has a proven track record of driving growth and solving tough business and marketing challenges for accounting firms and SMEs. You can reach her at [email protected] or connect with her via LinkedIn.