The Web 2.0 accountant: Building relationships through technology
Online accounting business mi-fi provides Web 2.0 accounting support and services for SMEs. Moving away from the traditional method of charging clients by the hour, mi-fi’s mission is to make professional services more accessible and affordable for SME’s by utilising Zendesk’s customer service technology.
Key to its business model is the way in which it offers its accounting and other business services – including accounts payable, inventory management, point of sale, time billing and job management applications. Instead of utilising the time-based billing model, users can access the services they require for a fixed fee based around the size of the business, and applications selected. Within the fixed fee, the mi-fi team encourages its clients to contact them whenever they need to – something that required the support of an all encompassing client engagement solution.
Co-founder, Campbell King explained, “Business owners shouldn’t be afraid of contacting their advisor for fear of being charged for it. In fact, we believe they should contact us whenever they need to, no matter how big or small the issue they may be facing. This way they can tackle it early and we can help them make better decisions.”
At its launch at the beginning of 2011, the company only had three staff members, so the Mi-fi team wanted a flexible, cloud-based help desk solution that would grow with it and its client base, enable its team to track account inquiries, and all at an affordable cost. Campbell looked to Zendesk to provide this support.
“Without Zendesk we wouldn’t have been able to introduce this type of model. We needed a tool that would track queries in an efficient way so we could move away from a time-billing model.”
Zendesk as part of the accounting revolution
Initially signing up for Zendesk’s Starter plan with an agent limit of three people, Campbell said the choice to rollout the help desk solution was a crucial for the business to developing its revolutionary approach.
“I think it’s well known that taxation and doing tax returns is becoming somewhat of a commodity, and something like Zendesk allows us to deal with clients in a more proactive way and add value that way,” Campbell said. “I think that accounting firms who don’t take this approach will be left behind.”
After conducting a short trial of Zendesk, Campbell realised just how much potential it had to be the enabler of mi-fi’s revolutionary approach to accounting.
“We didn’t really trial anything else. Once we got onto Zendesk and got a feel for it, it soon became clear it was an ideal product for our needs. What was great was that we were able to make our decision based on both the price and the value of Zendesk. While there are a few other vendors out there who provide similar services, these are at a price point designed for large firms,” he said.
Forums create less email traffic
While responding to client emails is a critical part of day to day life as an accountant, Campbell said Zendesk’s forums have reduced the number of emails the team has had to respond to.
“We use the forums to proactively create articles that clients can read so that they are aware of current business issues. This helps them become more educated and means less emails are sent to our team members,” Campbell said.
“The focus for us is on enabling our clients to find answers to their questions as quickly as possible, and Zendesk forums allow us to do this easily.”
The mi-fi team is also able to track conversations via the Zendesk platform, as the few emails that are sent from clients become tickets in Zendesk, forming part of a discussion that’s easy to track and understand.
“While you have emails and they work well, trying to track that flow of information that you need as an accountant can be difficult – often you email things in different threads and it’s hard to keep an audit trail of who said what,” Campbell said.
“With Zendesk, the conversations you’ve had with clients via email are easy to find and track, giving us the ability to search and organise customer enquiries for more accurate and timely responses.”
The transition from traditional emails to Zendesk was relatively fast and seamless for the mi-fi team, with collaboration across the business being a big draw card of the rollout.
“It was amazing how easy it was to get the Zendesk system up and running. We didn’t need to undertake any training. There was some initial resistance from one of our team members who has been an accountant for some time and is a bit older than us,” Campbell says. “But once they understood why we were using Zendesk instead of emails, and actually saw how easy the system was to use, it immediately made sense to him.”
Automation is key
One of the key requirements that Campbell had for Zendesk was for it to help him in his search to automate as many tasks as possible, this should enable the business to reduce the cost of services and allow its advisors to spend more time focussing on client service and delivering solutions that will make them more profitable.
“One of the great things about Zendesk is the way in which it allows you to set up rules, via certain triggers, and create predetermined responses to frequently asked questions,” Campbell said. “This helps the team be more productive, because the system itself handles some of the easy stuff, so that we can add value by focusing on the issue at hand.”
Now that the business has grown, so, too, has mi-fi’s use of Zendesk. The business is currently moved up to Zendesk’s Plus plan, with its eyes set on the Enterprise level, depending on future growth of the company.
“There are some features that we like in the Enterprise plan, and I’m set on moving up to that if our team grows,” he said.
While Zendesk was initially used for internal teams only, it is now used by mi-fi clients, as well, with Campbell saying this has created a clear line of communication between client and accountant.
“To anyone who wants to support their clients and customers on an on-going basis, I’d say using Zendesk is a no brainer. For us, using Zendesk has really changed the traditional accountant-client relationship. It has meant that great service and advice are easy and affordable to provide for our clients, and it has helped us transform the accounting function from a necessary nuisance to an enlightening and enabling tool. It really does mean our customers can get more out of their accountant.”
When keeping it simple does the trick
73% improvement in first response time
Making support more collaborative and effective
Robust forums help customers help themselves
Automated responses save time and headcount
Maintaining a consistent level of service for all
Turning customers into advocates
Customer service that scales
Faster response times means happier customers