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How a Great Online User Experience Can Help Your Firm Grow and Prosper

Recently I stayed at a Hilton Hotel and a Comfort Inn, back to back. Both rooms were remarkably similar: comfortably firm bed, bathroom, desk, mini-fridge, and TV. And the check-in process followed the same basic steps: look up my reservation and exchange credit card info for room keys.

But check-in at the Hilton was a completely different experience than at the Comfort Inn. The extreme courtesy told me I was in for an experience that would be worth paying two-and-a-half times as much as I would pay at the Comfort Inn.

Both hotels provided me with essentially the same basic service — a safe and comfortable place to sleep. But the user experience at the Hilton was superior, and was worth the higher price.

The reason for my stay at the Hilton was a three-day workshop in Austin on writing for the web, and a session by Heather Robson focused on User Experience. The concept of user experience, or UX,  is becoming a hot one in the online world, as savvy internet businesses focus on every detail of a customer’s experience, from initial encounter with a company’s website through the purchase and use of the product or service, and follow up to ensure the customer is happy.

To demonstrate this, Robson walked us through the sign-up and initial set-up at two competing services for email marketing. Mail Chimp made the process clear, intuitive, and made the user feel certain that setting up an email marketing campaign would be a piece of cake. The competitor, TargetHero, on the other hand, was confusing and confrontational. It made the process seem hard.

What’s the user experience of your firm?

Why should you care? If it’s hard, confusing or not friendly at your firm, your clients may not stay. And, as I experienced with the contrast between the Hilton and the Comfort Inn, customers will gladly pay higher prices for a superior user experience.

As Robson said, “You cannot go wrong by offering the customer a better user experience.”

Let’s look at your website

Your website is often the first impression that a new prospect has of your firm. Whether they find you through Google or by referral, almost everyone will visit your website before they call for an appointment.

Does your home page set your firm apart from the competition, or does it look like most of the other accounting firm websites out there — a nice neutral blue color scheme, with text that touts your professionalism, quality, responsiveness and experience?

One of my favorite accounting firm websites is the one for Growthwise in Australia. The headline — “Think Learn Grow & Kick Arse”— is not only an attention grabber, but communicates clearly to a prospect that this is the place if they want more from their accountant than just nicely reconciled books and help with tax compliance. This is the place where business owners are supported as they create wildly successful businesses.

Here’s a tip: Website visitors looking for a new accountant want to know how using your firm will benefit them. They want to know if they’re in the right place. Their first question will be “what’s in it for me?”

Avoid the corporate “we-we”

As an exercise, count the number of times your website uses the words “we” and “our” versus the frequency of “you” and “your.”  A user-focused website won’t mention much about the firm, except to explain how their attributes will benefit the client.

For example, we accountants have an idea what it means to have Big 4 experience. But what does Big 4 experience mean to the owner of a small business, whose only knowledge of the Big 4 is the role PwC plays in the Oscars? Will that experience help them manage cash flow and save on taxes?

Here’s a tip: spell out clearly what the benefit of your background, training, and experience will be for a new client. Here’s an example, “Fred spent three years at top four firm KPMG. That means you’ll have access to big firm expertise with the personal touch of a smaller firm.”

Make it easy to read

Do you have a powerful headline that touches on a chief pain point of your clients? Is the text easy to read? Big blocks of grey text look hard to read, and will mostly be skipped. Short sentences and paragraphs with subheads that give a skimmer the gist of your message are much easier and more inviting, and will actually be read.

Now look on every page and ask yourself, is it clear what we want a visitor to do next? Are they supposed to call or email us? Can they set an appointment from the website? Is your address, phone number and email easily visible on every page?

Here’s a tip: if you prefer working with clients in your local area, make sure your address is prominently displayed. Best place is top right corner of the header on every page.

Ignore the mobile experience at your peril

And is your website mobile friendly? By mid-2016, nearly 60% of searches were being done on mobile devices. If your website is hard to read or difficult to navigate on a mobile device, that prospect might cross you off their list.

Here’s a tip: Not sure if your website is mobile friendly? Try pulling it up on your phone. Do you have to resize the text to read it? Is it easy to move from page to page?

Help clients use your portal

Like most modern accountants, you likely have a secure web portal for your clients for transferring files back and forth. The interface for those is largely managed by your firm software provider, so you don’t have much control over how it looks or how easy it is to use.

But do you have a set of clear instructions that you email every client when their portal is set up? Instructions so clear your 93-year-old great-grandmother could follow them?

Be generous with your expertise

A blog or other articles on your website informs visitors of your expertise. Sure, there are do-it-yourselfers who will seize on that information and never call you. Giving away information to those freeloaders makes some accountants nervous. But those folks generally make for nightmare clients. They’re not the ones you want to work with.

Sharing useful information helps prospects become comfortable with your firm. It helps them to see your firm as a trustworthy mentor or guide who will help them become more successful. It helps them see the value of what you offer. It raises your profile from that of merely helpful to that of a trusted advisor, and worthy of higher fees.

Plus, publishing content regularly helps your website rise in search rankings without resorting to the technical tricks that Google will punish you for.

Here’s a tip: As search moves to voice, searches are taking the form of questions. If there are questions your clients regularly ask, use those questions as titles for posts. Integrate those questions into the main body of your posts. Add them to a FAQ page on your website, and provide generous answers.

These are just a few of the ways you can improve the online user experience for your firm. A superior user experience can mean the difference between a Hilton Hotel fee and a Comfort Inn fee. Which would you prefer?