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Why Clients Want Better Collaboration
February 6, 2017

By William Hamilton

78% of your clients want this when they collaborate with you, do you know what “this” is?

Before we give you that answer, let's "get real" with each other for a minute -

Collaborating with clients can be a nightmare.

  • Searching through piles of email trying to find a specific document.
  • Re-answering the same 3 questions over-and-over again from multiple partners in a business.
  • Trying to get a spouse to re-send you a file they “swore” the other spouse already sent (but didn’t).

It gives me anxiety just typing that.

This isn’t breaking news to you, you’ve survived tax seasons before - you know how much of a pain in the asphalt it is.

The one thing that often goes unspoken, however, is how much your clients HATE this process as well…

Deep down your clients loathe tax season not just because paying taxes to them is worse than going to the dentist – they hate it because the process & procedure of getting their taxes done is painful, overly complicated, and often frustratingly confusing.

Does that imply that’s you’re a bad tax pro or somehow bad at your job? No, absolutely not.  

It goes without saying the majority of your clients love you.

They share their secrets with you, they know your kid’s names and what your vacation plans are after the season ends.

But they really wish working with you could just be easier.

Why? What’s going on that’s making your clients feel this way (even if they’re not verbalizing it yet)?

Let’s look at three main ways tax-pro and client collaboration is currently broken. And more importantly, what you can do to give your clients the collaboration they crave from your firm.


1)    Your Clients Don’t Always Want to Call You

Back in 1982 when E.T. hit theaters, it made sense for him to voice the iconic phrase “E.T. phone home”.

But voice calls are no longer the preferred method of contact for the majority of today’s consumers. If E.T. was cruising around on the front of someone’s bike today, he would more likely say “E.T. sends text” or “E.T. double-taps Instagram post”.  

We can fight this concept (or not agree with it) all we want, but that doesn’t change the reality of how people now prefer to interact with the companies they work with.

  • 78% of consumers would choose a support channel other than voice/phone if they had a choice. (Ovum Omni-channel support report)

78%! That’s a huge number. It doesn’t matter what type of niche client you serve or where your practice is located – the numbers dictate many of your clients share that feeling.  

So what do clients want if it’s not talking on the phone?

When given multiple options for support and collaboration, online-chat wins by a landslide – a margin of 4 to 1 when compared with phone and email.

What does that mean for your firm?

A. You can no longer rely solely on phone calls, emails or in-person meetings when collaborating with clients.


B. You need to add a way for clients to real-time message you and carry on a two-way conversation without having to pick up the phone or come see you. 


C. Chat collaboration isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it is quickly becoming the preferred method from your client’s perspective.


These numbers will only become more drastic as the Connected Consumer generation continues to grow. The concept of the “Connected Consumer” is that we’re no longer seeing generations of consumers defined by what year they were born (e.g. Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, etc.).

Rather, they’re defined by their mindset and how they interact with technology. The largest “generation” of consumers is fast becoming the “connected” one where they rely on connectivity and technology in most every aspect of their lives.

Now’s the time to point out a large risk that many firms will fall prey to…

Many of the people reading this post will think to themselves, “my clients have never said anything to me about wanting chat”. The risk is, those firms think they can wait to implement a new technology until their clients are “demanding” it from them.

This risk of waiting is two-fold:

1.  Just because clients aren’t demanding something from you, doesn’t mean they don’t already want it.


2.  If you wait to implement a solution only when clients are “demanding” it, then you have already lost a large segment of clients (or potentials clients) who have wanted that solution and just went to a competitor who is already offering it.

This has been proven time and time again throughout history as consumers will ALWAYS opt for the path of least resistance when given a choice.

This path, in your case, is simply working with a firm that has the modern technology they crave, instead of having an uncomfortable conversation with you around why you don’t offer what they want and having to ask to you implement it.

Key Takeaway

Chat collaboration needs to be added to your current mix of collaboration channels for those clients that want it. Phone, email, and in-person meetings can still be used, but they should no longer be the only methods you use.


2)    Your Clients Want to Do More Than Just Share Documents

For the last 10+ years, the answer to better collaboration in the tax & accounting space has been “client portals”. The problem with that is, most client portals are severely broken.

Today’s client portals (marketed to tax firms) are built around sharing documents but not genuine collaboration.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

There are three components to successfully sharing data with someone in an effective way:

1)    Sending or giving someone access to the data (documents, numbers, ideas, thoughts, etc.)

2)    Explaining what the data is or what it means

3)    Instructing that person what needs to be done with the data (store it, review it, open it, analyze it, reply with critiques, etc.)

The second and third components are where most client portals today fall woefully short.

They allow you or your clients to send a piece of data, but they don’t effectively account for the natural conversation you need to have with your client, or your client needs to have with you, around what the data means and what to do with the shared information.

Only once you bring the “conversation” element into the equation, can you then really start a true “collaboration” process where two entities are working together to achieve a better outcome than would be possible working alone.

By truly understanding what an effective collaboration process looks like – you can start to see how having the ability to only “share documents” isn’t going to get you closer to where your clients want you to be.

Key Takeaway

Your clients want access to you so you can help them achieve an outcome that’s greater than what they could achieve on their own.

  • If they wanted to do this process on their own they would just use TurboTax.
  • They want to work with you because they believe you can get them a better result.
  • You make your value tangible when you start creating ways to collaborate and work together towards their same goals.

Don’t assume your firm is using a true collaboration tool simply because you have a way to share documents with clients.

Implement a tool that is designed around the conversations you need to have while sharing data, and makes the process simple and easy for both parties.


3)    Design Matters to Your Clients

Your clients are using more and more technology every single day. The visual design of these technologies has dramatically improved over time and will continue to do so. 

Think about the number of apps we’ve become accustomed to using on weekly, if not daily, basis:

-        Online banking

-        Facebook

-        Instagram

-        Our phone’s text messaging interface

-        Netflix

-        Amazon

-        Uber/Lyft

-        Email

-        Streaming Radio (Pandora, Google Play, iTunes, etc.)

-        Our car’s digital interface

The list is massive when you stop to think about it!

It’s been proven over and over again that people trust websites & tools with good design significantly more than those with bad design, and websites/tools that are beautifully designed get more use.

Knowing these facts, it pains me to look at most of the client portals sold to tax & accounting firms today.

They look archaic, they don’t present a feeling of trust, and they don’t use best practices for design or layout. Thus, they’re not easily adopted by many clients.

Key Take Away

  • You can no longer choose a tool to use with your clients, based solely on the functionality of that tool.
  • If you want your tool to be used and trusted, you have to also consider its design and how it will look and feel from your client’s perspective.

If you’re using a portal now, but it doesn’t take into account modern design best-practices, then you need to analyze how much usage you’re currently getting from your portal and if that usage could be increased if you implemented a tool with better design.


What We’re Building at SmartCenter

We want to make it easier for you and your clients to truly collaborate.

We’re excited to announce the BETA of the SmartCenter Client Portal that will allow you to do that.

We built a collaboration space that’s designed around the natural conversations you and your clients have when getting real work done.

-  By just using SmartCenter as you normally would, you’ll have the ability to chat with clients in real-time, share documents, and send requests.

-  Your client will be able to login to your dedicated & encrypted collaboration space at any time from any device.   

Our new collaboration space is the most secure and effective way for you and your clients to work together without having to rely on phone calls or emails.

We wanted to create an alternative that specifically addresses the limitations of other portals available for small firms today.

The SmartCenter client portal is:

  • Expertly designed around natural human interactions & conversations
  • Fully optimized for mobile so clients can collaborate with you from any device
  • Completely integrated with SmartCenter’s practice management platform, so all of your client data, documents, and conversations are in one easily accessible place

If you’d like to get early access to the SmartCenter client portal for this tax season and experience a better collaboration process with your clients, just email us at and we can setup a time to chat.

The next decade will be filled with opportunities for tax professionals to stand out from their competition and realize immense profits.

Don’t get left behind, start giving your clients what they really want.

About William Hamilton William is the co-founder of SmartCenter and a huge Lakers fan. All about finding ways to do things faster & better, he loves discussing anything that helps make life easier. Follow Will on Twitter - @Williamh4La