About Valley Accounting and Tax
Valley Accounting and Tax is a large Minnesota firm with four offices and a strong reputation for customer care. It has been voted ‘number one’ eight years in a row in the Readers’ Choice Awards in their local newspaper.
Even when the Covid-19 pandemic forced a major rethink on how best to communicate with clients, the team has managed to come up with imaginative ways to stay in touch with its 4000 strong client base. Their phone App, which went live in November 2020, has undoubtedly played an important role by enabling instant communication directly to clients’ cell phones.
R Thomas Mould, CPA, CMA, Senior Partner and President explains: “Being based in Minnesota, we were relatively lucky because we weren’t forced to shut down entirely. The pandemic has been useful because it has helped to focus our thinking on finding more ways for our clients to interact with us in a way that they feel comfortable with.”
The signature at the bottom of Tom’s personal emails paints a vivid picture of a firm that is going that extra mile by providing clients with a range of choices. It reads: ‘We are asking our clients to please use our Digital Tools to enable safe and easy interaction with us.
You can sign up for a Client Portal, upload our Valley Phone App (search for ‘myaccountants’ in the App store and use the code VALLEY when prompted). You can use Securesend from our web-site as well as Email and Fax. Please consider Zoom or phone meetings as an alternative to a physical meeting. We are elated that we have not had a Covid outbreak at Valley nor have any been reported to have started here. We are allowing short physical appointments for new clients, business clients and those with complex situations or extenuating circumstances as well as physical drop-offs at all locations.’
‘No matter how you splice and dice our client base; they all have a cell phone’
Tom goes on to say: “We need to appeal across the age span: to millennials as well as octogenarians and to different income groups and ethnic backgrounds. We recommend our phone App to those that are comfortable in that space and reassure those that may have doubts, that it is secure and efficient.”
“No matter how you slice and dice our client base; they all have a cell phone. We are going to stick with our phone App and keep pushing on with the call to download it. Our aim is to get upwards of 80% to put it on their phones and although, we know that it will take time, we believe that people will see its value and create the stickiness we are looking for.”
Benefits of instant communication – saving the firm time and money
A few weeks ago, the firm experienced a major upheaval with their phone system, which was brought down by a wet underground cable. Tom says that they had to get ‘creative’ in their thinking about how to let their clients know what was happening and why calls were not being answered. This is where the Valley Accounting phone App came to the fore and the team realised that they had a very powerful tool in their arsenal.
With between 500 and 600 clients having downloaded the App onto their phones, Tom says: “We were able to send messages quickly and easily and tell them what was going on. It opened our eyes to what is possible and the benefits of this instant form of communication.”
The practice has used this experience to reinforce its value and is telling clients that it would make it much easier to get in touch with them urgently.
Tom went on to say that the firm is able to save money by using the App to contact clients.“Snail mail is too slow and too costly and email is losing its appeal as everyone is now so sensitive to spam and phishing scams and hackers.”
“We are saving time and money because we can instantly ping people and reach them directly on their cell phones instead of having to send a blast of emails to a third party mailing facility.”
Downloads exceed expectation
The Valley Accounting App only went live at the back end of 2020 and Tom believed that there would be a response rate of between 5% and 7 %. But, downloads have exceeded all expectations and currently stand at c15%; over double what was anticipated.
The team worked closely with their Customer Success Manager at MyFirmsApp to engage clients and persuade them to download the phone App and they are pleased with this ‘initial’ response.
The App is all about creating value in the eyes of their clients, Tom adds. “It gives us another tool we can offer to people. In the beginning we saw it would help us to create more stickiness and keep our customers loyal to the practice. Tax returns have now become a commodity in the US and now, more than ever, we need to keep clients close.”
“Our tools are free and do the same as the ones clients pay for”
Clients are being encouraged to use all the free tools that are available in the App. These include calculators, tax tables, a document scanner, receipt manager and mileage tracker and Tom freely admits, ‘they ‘do the same as the ones clients pay for’. They add value on a daily basis and will be instrumental in helping to deliver the ‘stickiness’ the firm is aiming for.
Advice to other firms
Valley Accounting and Tax had a clear aim to get their phone App up and running by the start of the Tax season of 2021. Tom’s advice to other firms considering an App is to: “Give it a longer runway. If I could do it all over again, I would love to have started the implementation last summer. Make sure you have adequate time and space to do a thorough job. The team at MyFirmsApp have been great to work with and we have got the App to tie in with icons on our newly designed website so there is consistency. So, don’t be afraid to get creative and don’t be afraid to push it and soldier on. I am confident that the widespread adoption of phone Apps will happen over time, if our clients are anything to go by.”