Now that we’ve covered the importance of an After Action Review for your firm’s post busy season, it’s time to really figure out which of your processes work and which ones might need to be reviewed and improved. 

Below I have broken down all of the key action items you may have once you have completed your AAR and how to prioritize, plan, and progress through each one.  Once you identify and prioritize each item that needs to be worked on, then you need to assign a leader to each task. The best way to get something done, is to make it someone’s job, after all!

 

Step 1. Assign staff to each area that needs to be improved, and then have them take a deep dive into this specific area of your process, suggesting improvements along the way. Once a new process has been discussed and vetted, it is important to share this with the whole team. When you share this, it’s a good idea to do a dry run before the next busy season hits!

Completing this process right after your busy season (like tax season) is critical. This way, we capture everything when it’s fresh in everyone’s minds and we do something about it before 

We get stuck in a cycle of facing the same problems, challenges and frustrations each year.

 

Step 2. Identify the topics you want to address. This part of your process often takes the longest. Maybe you have missing documents? Or poor communication between client and firm? Or maybe there are too many places that you have to go to find all your information.

One of the more common things that can lead to late nights and stress is that you get to January 1st and you realize you don’t have the information you need, in order to do the 1099s. If you don’t have all your ducks in a row, it is a hectic scramble and that’s when mistakes are made. Now is the time to determine how you will avoid this!

Another thing that firms are often wrestling with, especially now that we are (mostly) all working remotely, is that data exists in silos.  This happens when data is coming in too many ways.  Plus, if you have data silos, staff have to check too many places for all the relevant information they might need. This causes lots of stress, and lots of wasted time.

All throughout this process, everything needs to be documented to make sure all the new procedures are easy to follow consistently and you can onboard new staff easily when needed.

And of course, the underlying theme with all of this is security – anything you roll out, change, or do in your firm must be secure. So emailing your clients, asking for their W9s won’t fly anymore.

 

Step 3. Look at best practices to solve for the issues you have identified. If you are struggling to solve an issue, it’s a good idea to expand your potential pool of solutions by seeking help from a peer (like me) or a reputable source such as a solution provider.

The first problem we used as a common example is one I can help you solve: your missing W9s. The easy response is to update your year end files as you go. Create a centralized, secure place for all your digital files, this way everything can be easily located while staying safe. I like to use SmartVault for this! Each month, make sure you receive your W9s from each client – Liscio templates make these requests fast and easy as well as giving clients a secure way to send them. Using the QuickBooks Online AP lists as a guide, you can ensure that you have a complete set of documents from each of your clients.

Another issue many firms find themselves wasting time on is getting their clients to communicate effectively. Most firms request documents are sent via email. Not only has email become a serious bottleneck in many firms, it’s also super unsafe!  

Here’s what I suggest instead: Think about the client’s day to understand why they don’t respond instantly. Many times, your client will receive your email via their smartphone. They don’t have access to the documents they need or a scanner and they definitely don’t want to try logging into your online portal using their smartphone. 

If they don’t receive your email while they are on the go, then they get it when they are at work. Good right? Wrong. They have their own clients in and out the door and on the phone all day. Their priority is on making money and serving their clients. Your email will sit in their inbox until the link to the portal has expired and they have to ask for help to log in. This stalls all your work on this client.

So how can we solve this? Think like the client thinks! If they are texting you, it means that they are more likely to do business with you via their phone. Many millennials ignore emails and don’t own scanners or printers. Your solution is to match their mobile lives.

Set yourself up for success by adopting some or all of the policies I have shared with you, and make dumping email a very high priority. 

There are a few easy solutions to some big problems your firm may be experiencing. Schedule a demo with Liscio so you can see how much faster your firm can move when you are working with your client’s needs. Get your documents sent in on time.

Now it’s time to put your AAR learning into action…

Repeating these steps with all of the areas you want to improve based on your After Action Review will help your firm become more efficient for next tax season and ensure your clients feel cared for and can provide what you need quickly and easily. That’s a win for everyone and another reason to do your AAR now.

If you’ve followed me for any time, you know I looove technology–learning about it, experimenting with it, using it to drive efficiencies and ROI, and, of course, sharing my experiences with it to help others.

There is one thing, though, that I try never to lose sight of and I think it’s a point that can never be made enough. Technology is the means to the end, not the means itself. This is all part of the process I lay out in my book, The Designated Motivator for Accounting Professionals, and in my Reassess Your Success courses.

An app, no matter how cool it is, is still a tool–and the effect of using it on people is what we should really be focused on when it comes to evaluation and implementation…not to mention the actual usage of it.  That’s why it’s so important to view technology as a critical touchpoint for your team and your clients.

With this in mind I offer the following considerations to think through when it comes to your firm’s tech stack and how effective it is beyond a tactical workflow standpoint:

  1. Who is using the particular technology in question?
  2.  Is your intended app client-facing?  If so, what are clients seeing when they use your solution? How are they feeling about it?
  3. If the technology tool is for your team to use, what pain points are they facing? Do they need additional training to get maximum benefit? What are their thoughts on the software?

No matter who is using the technology in your tech stack, be sure to take the time and make the effort to understand what their user experience is like and then consider if the internal experience differs significantly from the external one (i.e. your team loves it and your clients don’t, or vice versa). If this is the case, then it’s definitely worth evaluating a different tool. And if no one is happy…then it’s definitely time to reassess your success with that particular application, in my opinion.

Here is an example of a tool we chose, and why it works so well for us.  We needed a way for clients to securely send documents and sensitive information to our firm.  But we ALSO needed the tool to create transparency for staff and a “single source of truth” for all documents, esignatures, messages and discussion threads, and tasks for the client, and for the firm.  We chose Liscio to fulfill this “job” in our tech lineup.  Clients love it, and my staff can move faster because we aren’t having to chase clients for overdue items, or search in endless email strings, or look in multiple places for documents they sent.  We also don’t get texts anymore which is a  HUGE bonus because we can actually have our personal cell phones back. 

The most important takeaway here, one that I hope you will take to heart is that tech is just the tool–but it has become a critical touch point for the people who drive your business forward. Namely your team and your clients, so open up that feedback loop and make changes as necessary to ensure it supports the exceptional client experience and workplace culture you want to have!  Then choose the right tools for each stakeholder to use.  You will create delight and productivity like never before!

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