In our last blog in this “App Stack” series, we discussed the additional compliance applications that help you as the trusted advisor around corporate affairs and self managed superannuation funds.
This time we’re discussing the communication apps, both internal for your team and external for your clients.
Office365 and Gmail
As an industry we are deeply entrenched with Microsoft and their suite of products (how good is an Excel spreadsheet!!), specifically in this case though, Outlook. It’s what we know, it’s what most of us have grown up with and it has many bells and whistles that allow us to easily communicate both internally and externally with our clients, in the electronic written format. Office365 is Microsoft’s version of practically the same desktop software that we are used to, however it’s now cloud based allowing you to access your emails via a browser and is also subscription based, so gone are the days of getting out the CD-Rom and doing an annual upgrade for the latest version. The subscription allows you download a local version of the software to your computer and then syncs with the cloud based version, it also allows for auto download of upgrades to the software, ensuring you always have the latest version as long as you’re up to date with your subscription payment. Realistically there’s bugger all difference between this version and your old version, it’s just hosted in the cloud.
Gmail on the other hand as far as the accounting industry is concerned, is almost like using Outlook written in a different language <insert generalisation here>. It just doesn’t feel the same and apparently change is hard! Gmail uses labels to categorise your emails instead of the traditional drag and drop into folders. It doesn’t auto correct your grammar issues, especially annoying for those of us who are used to that feature (thanks Outlook!). But you know what it does do wonderfully, the search capability is powerful so no matter where you think you labelled something and stored it, you will be able to locate that email! It also connects really well with other external apps, making any other “non standard” business software integrations really easy to hook up to, ie, HubSpot if you were really serious about lead management for new client acquisition.
Not that this really has much to do with the topic at hand as we are discussing the communication elements here, but the other aspects that differentiate Office365 & Gmail are the additional software applications that come standard in your subscription. Essentially it’s Office365 along with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook and then with Gmail under the GSuite subscription you have Docs, Sheets, Slides and both have other less known apps too. Most accountants can’t stand Sheets which is googles version of Excel because the functionality just isn’t the same or up to industry scratch. The same can be said with the desktop version of Word versus Docs, and for that matter the cloud based version of Word versus Docs, there just isn’t the same level of formatting available. But does this really matter?
From an industry perspective, Office365 is far better suited, especially if you’re an established firm, it’s less change from a functionality perspective, therefore less interruptions when you do transition a large component of your business to the cloud and it also integrates better with our suggested document management solution (SuiteFiles...more on that next time!), not to mention those standard applications that come with the subscription are what you are used too...excel will live on!
Gmail and the GSuite are a fantastic option to consider, especially if you’re starting your firm from scratch or are in another industry, it’s good to do your due diligence though from a user interface perspective and usability aspect in regards to this topic, because it’s one app that you spend A LOT of time using!
Slack is an internal messaging application, similar but much more advanced, than of the old days of ICQ, for those of you old enough to remember the old flower symbol from the early 2000’s which is actually still around and closely resembles a whatsapp or facebook messenger!
It provides a medium of internal communication that eliminates the need for the ‘one too many email communication’ as it gives the sender the ability to direct the communication to a specific channel or group of people and have them reply in real time and displayed just ONCE without the dreaded ‘reply all’, (we‘ve all had that situation where Betty suggests a place for lunch and then everyone ‘replies all’ and you end up with 50 emails saying yes or no)
Slack also allows for easy sharing of files internally along with an open API which allows a whole bunch of other web applications to connect, for example if you use Practice Ignition you can then use Zapier to connect Practice Ignition and Slack and have a message appear in a specific slack channel that will notify the team of an accepted proposal and then that can trigger other internal workflows.
For those of you who use Trello to keep track of tasks you can also integrate slack and Trello which will allow you to send a slack straight to a Trello board!
Slack is available natively on most devices as an app or you can use any internet enabled device’s web browser to open up a slack session to communicate with your team!
We are now seeing accounting firms start to invite clients into their firms slack with a dedicated private channel and they have used this medium for clients to quickly communicate with their accountant rather than sending emails. While we could just pick up the phone this at least allows everyone to reply in their own time. For those of you who are concerned about receiving slack messages at 2am in the morning and waking you up, you are able to set a DND time period where slacks will not be notified to you, it also notifies the sender that they are sending a slack outside of your nominated hours.
We touched on the open API earlier but we couldn’t write a blog on Slack without mentioning our favourite add on, GIPHY! We will leave it for you to work out what we are talking about but you will not be let down!
Our only criticism of slack is that you are unable to see if the person has actually read or seen your slack so you just have to hope they have and will respond accordingly! Having said this, you are able as to set a reminder on a particular slack that will then remind you to action something so this is a handy feature.
Slack if used properly within your business will enable your team to quickly respond to each other or if they are working on something and in the zone they are able to put themselves on DND and answer the messages at a later point. This improves communication within the office and leaves your inbox for what it is intended, client emails and important communication and stops inbox overload caused from internal emails!
Zoom is a one to one/many video conferencing tool that is able to run on basically any device or web browser capable device. While Skype is probably a better all round communication tool, and Google hangouts is a natively built in Gsuite option, Zoom is by far superior in our opinion in terms of video communication as this is their core focus. Please note that Zoom is not intended to perform the same voice calling function as Skype however if it is just one to one/many video conferencing you’re after then Zoom is the choice for you!
It is just so simple to use and integrates with most of the usual suspects such as, Calendly, Gmail, O365 allowing seamless interaction when booking meetings.
Zoom’s key features include:
One of the features in particular that we at Clarity Street really like, is the ability to control remotely the client’s computer, this makes training and fixing issues just that much easier and eliminate the need to have a tool such as Team Viewer which can cause version headaches for anyone who has ever had to use it!
Zoom has a freemium plan which is powerful enough for any small business however if you are a heavy user of video communication you will want to upgrade to the premium plan which gives you far more flexibility especially around the length of the video call and integrations.
Using Zoom will improve your ability to communicate with your clients using a multitude of devices, host and record webinar’s, take control of your clients computer, diagnose issues, provide training and most importantly visually communicate!
No matter what you decide to use, the important key here is to actually have communication within your firm, remembering that both internal and external communication hold equal levels of importance. If you want to know more, get in touch with us!
N.B. It’s important to speak with a trusted IT advisor when choosing to transition your email communication platform to a cloud based solution so the right subscription levels are chosen to ensure the highest levels of security and functionality are in place.
Clarity Street was conceived from years of engaging with Accounting firms on a daily basis and a constant desire to make Accounting firms & SME’s more efficient and profitable.