Automation Doesn’t Replace Communication
Communication is integral for any accounting firm, no matter the size. Without clear communication – both internally and externally – chaos is bound to occur. That’s why it’s essential to remember that while we might use automation to facilitate communication, automation will never replace communication.
Many firms have made the leap to an automated workflow tool that allows reviewers to enter review notes for preparers and track those review notes as they are addressed or resolved.
While this feature can help facilitate communication between the preparer and reviewer, unfortunately, some reviewers use these notes as a means of not having to actually talk to staff members. When they’re used as a means to “train” new staff, an extensive list of review notes is more a source of frustration for struggling preparers than a learning opportunity. Review notes, whether handwritten or digital, do not take the place of training and coaching. Reviewers still need to supplement review notes with verbal discussion.
The fact that the preparer and reviewer are not in the same office is not an excuse. Technology allows teams to work remotely, but that doesn’t remove the need for “face-to-face” communication. Video conferencing is an excellent alternative to in-person review meetings. These conversations are how new staff members grow and develop. They are how relationships are built. Automated review notes can help your firm transform to a paperless model and streamline procedures, but they aren’t an excuse to side-step talking to the people you are supervising.
In the last few years, several tools have digitized and automated the process of collecting client documents, obtaining signatures, delivering tax returns and more. Data collection and processing may be automated but applying expertise, using judgment and building client relationships is not.
It’s as essential as ever to have strong written communication skills to translate your insights into compelling documents and strong oral communication skills that allow you to convey pertinent financial information to executive teams and stakeholders. We’re living in a time of unprecedented access to information, yet all of this information is just noise if it's not communicated effectively.
Automation can free up a lot of time spent on the front and back end of your client engagements, but technology isn’t just about helping us do the same work faster. It should give us the time and opportunity to connect with clients in a way that brings them more value. That value doesn’t come from automated reminders asking your clients to upload their tax documents or sign an engagement letter. It comes from having a deeper understanding of what is keeping your clients up at night and providing sophisticated advice and analysis that helps them solve those problems.
Technology might improve the mechanics of communication, but it cannot replace the human element. For some, this reality may require cultivating a broader range of relationship skills. We can’t look at it as we “have to” talk to a client but as an opportunity to make connections and build relationships.
Do your communication skills need a tune-up? Here are a few areas to work on:
Storytelling. Whether talking to a co-worker or a client, you want to present information in an interesting way. Nothing helps a person build a picture in their mind better than hearing about a real-life scenario. Tell a story through your analysis of financial information.
Eye contact. Make eye contact with the person you are talking to. Eye contact indicates you are focused and paying attention.
Credibility. When someone asks a question, it’s ok to say you don’t know the answer. Never make something up to avoid looking unprepared and always admit when you are wrong. Credibility is of utmost importance in the accounting profession.
Practice active listening. Make sure you hear the other person’s point of view during a discussion. Give your full attention rather than thinking about what you’ll say next.
Communicate solutions. Clients look to their accountants for answers to help achieve their goals. Make sure you know what they are and communicate your solutions in a way they’ll understand.
Slow down. It’s easy to breeze through what you want to say without making sure the other person understands. Take a breath and slow down. It may seem counterintuitive, but it will save time in follow-up questions or missteps in the long run.
Confidence. Be confident when you talk to clients and staff members. Confidence does not mean arrogance. Confidence comes from doing your homework and being prepared.
Give feedback. Being able to give and receive feedback is an important communication skill.
With much of the number crunching and counting being performed by bots, AI and machine learning, the marketplace is already demanding that CPAs know how to leverage knowledge to provide insight and connect with people. If you want to remain relevant while automation disrupts the profession, you need to develop and refine a skillset that cannot be automated. Machines are excellent at performing routine tasks, but catering to the needs of an individual is a uniquely human ability.
As a Director for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry-wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.