Tax season puts every accounting firm to the test. Getting the best performance from your administrative team is equally as important as the level of production of the accounting personnel. Here are eight steps to effectively mobilize your administrative personnel and generate the right return on investment:
1. Stress Client Attention. Convert your administrative staff to "client attention agents." Client longevity is a function of attention and communication, among other factors. Oftentimes, clients like to have access to employees whose priority is not the technical subject matter – your support staff can and should be a liaison for your clients.
Let your support personnel check in with new clients, during the first 120 days of the engagement, to ensure that their needs are being met, that they are satisfied with the services they are receiving, and that communication between the client and the firm is working well. Sending a welcome letter to new clients is a customer service imperative that is well placed in the hands of your administrative or marketing personnel.
The letter should detail the variety of services the firm offers, spell out the billing and collection policies, and introduce the administrative leadership, so that the owners and accountants can be freed up to concentrate on the client's technical support. Reminding clients of deadlines and requesting information are other important liaison roles that should be handled by your support team.
2. Expand the Boundaries of Responsibility. It is important that your administrative personnel are prepared and comfortable performing duties that are outside of their job description. Jobs such as, greeting clients, searching files, running to the post office or the bank, answering phones, setting appointments, delivering packages, surveying clients and calling clients for information are all necessary functions, and should not be limited to others in the firm. The greater the job exposure, the better your support staff will understand the needs of your practice.
3. Mandate Managerial Perspective. Encourage your support staff to start thinking like project managers by setting goals and attaching specific timelines to their workload. Establish goals for a 30-day period that include the time a specific project will require, anticipated problems and solutions, and deadlines. The better informed your staff is about up-coming projects, the more effective their planning will be, and the more successful the outcome.
4. Emphasize Priorities. In order for your organization to run smoothly, all projects and activities need to be prioritized. The administrative leaders in your firm (Office Manager, Firm Administrator, In-House Marketing Professionals, HR Director, or Finance Manager) should develop a weekly "Top Five List" that should be reviewed and modified by management. These are the top five priorities that must be handled during the course of the week. Although distractions are a normal part of the workday, they need to be managed so they do not interfere with the scheduled priorities.
5. Delegate Client Work Flow Tracking. Scheduling the workflow in the office is an appropriate task for your support staff. Avoiding conflict in the priority of engagements, as well as the utilization of personnel, is a directive that must be complied with to be effective. To the extent that the intensity of a client project is not clear or understandable to the administrative personnel, they should liaison with a more senior member of the accounting staff to gain the proper perspective. Reports and status should be shared with the owners and leaders of the firm, on a routine basis. Policing the production and deadline compliance efforts should be coordinated with practice management software and personal outreach.
6. Record and Chronicle Activities. Every administrative project or activity should be scheduled and put on a functional responsibility calendar. Estimated times slots should be entered for: extensions, engagement letters, billing, collections, events, tax assembly, mailings and e-mail blasts, surveys and staff meetings. Anticipating workflow and planning ahead to prevent gridlock works best if everything is written on a calendar, so deadlines are not missed, and nothing is forgotten.
7. Reward, Reward, Reward! Instituting a reward system, based on measured achievement, will provide tremendous incentive for your administrative staff. Increased production, new business, decrease in costs, improved turn-around time, enhanced accuracy, improved collections by elevated AR turns, increased lead flow, enhanced close rates, increased visibility, expanded portal utilization, and improved client responsiveness/cooperation are all valid indicators to measure and generate economic incentive. Combining monetary compensation and other benefits can also work, as long as it does not interfere with overtime pay.
8. Mastermind Marketing. Broadcasting the message and mission of the firm may be channeled through internal personnel, a diverse group of support staff, or outsourced. Whatever the method, accountability and focused expectations are vital. Be sure goals are well defined and timelines and follow-up efforts have been planned. Results must be measurable and transparent. Common data points include: the level of market penetration, leads generated, leads closed, referrals in, referrals out, and traffic reports - such as how many hits on your website, number of contacts, quality of contacts, number of e-mail blasts opened and articles read).
Investing in administrative personnel and encouraging accomplishments will generate important operational results, and will allow your accounting staff to be more productive. Determine all of the operational support that your firm requires, and plan for both the cost and the benefit – your success and return on investment will only improve if you do.