The 2020 pandemic forced us all to change, but some of those changes are here to stay. As we all spent some time working from home, virtual meetings – which certainly weren’t normal in the accounting industry – became a bigger part of our lives and will likely remain.
Frankly, most clients prefer this model anyway. Virtual meetings lets them log in right from their office (which might be at home). Neither party needs to spend the time or expense commuting to a meeting location.
This new paradigm isn’t a handicap, however. It presents an opportunity for streamlined workflows and better efficiency. But only if you think about it critically and acknowledge virtual meetings as part of your product, just like in-person.
In this article, we’d like to discuss some key strategies to help you host seamless virtual meetings with your clients. This advice will eliminate hassle, boost your efficiency, and improve your service.As we all spent some time working from home, virtual meetings became a bigger part of our lives and will likely remain. Click To Tweet
1. Choose the Right Tech Stack
Your technology stack is the first problem you need to solve here. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options, but don’t default to the mainstream ones. Search for the video conferencing platform that meets your exact needs. The best platform for quick check-in meetings is quite different from the best platform for 30-person conferences with break-out groups.
Next, consider your hardware. Are your computers, cameras, microphones, and audio equipment suitable for regular meetings? Is your video and audio clear and professional? If your video is pixelated and you sound like you’re speaking through a trash can, your clients will assume your service is equally incompetant.
Most importantly, your tech stack should make things easy for your clients. Whichever platform you choose should provide a simple and seamless workflow so your clients never struggle to attend a meeting. The last thing you want is a frustrated client who feels like they can’t talk to you because your tech gets in the way.
2. Develop Your Communication Skills
In a face-to-face meeting, we pick up on an endless stream of social cues, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. But in a virtual meeting, many of these language nuggets fail to make it through, so you’ll need to be more deliberate about how you communicate.
First, position your camera so your attendees can see your face clearly. Adjust the lighting in the room so everyone can see your expressions. It’s worth purchasing a soft ring light to illuminate your face pleasantly. (Something like this one.)
Next, make sure to keep your camera on. This helps your attendees read your face, posture, and physical expressions. Show your face even if your guests don’t, which may feel awkward, but it helps.
You can also use language to replace physical behavior. For instance, in person you might give attention by angling your body toward the speaker. In a virtual meeting, however, you can use phrasing to signal attention. You might say, “Thanks for that overview of your income. I’m glad you had such a good year.” You can also demonstrate your listening by asking a relevant question.
As the host, your worst enemy is silence. You ask a question and no one responds. No one asks questions of their own. No one has a comment, polite or otherwise, to follow up your presentation. It’s frustrating, but expected.
Your job is to guide the discussion according to the agenda. If the conversation veers off course, don’t be afraid to reign it in. If you need an answer, call out someone by name to make them accountable (but don’t be cheeky about it).
One more hosting tip: Make sure you are adept with your video conferencing platform. Practice with it before your first meeting so you don’t experience any tech screw ups during a client meeting. That would look unprofessional.
3. Bake Virtual Into Your Product Offering
If you’re all-in on virtual meetings, it should become a key component of your product offering. This means baking it into your typical workflow and your practice management system.
Consider all of the tasks you perform in your clients’ presence. You need solutions to serve your clients wherever they are. For instance, how will you invite them to your virtual meetings? Your conferencing system needs the ability to invite participants via email and automatically add events to their calendars. It should also prompt them to install the application if they haven’t already.
This means you need a practice management system that acknowledges that you won’t see clients in person. Your software should include features that support this virtual workflow, such as:
- Client portal where your clients can log in and interact with your firm.
- Secure file sharing so you can transfer documents safely.
- Electronic signature capabilities so no one has to snail-mail documents.
- Integrations with your other tools.
Finally, designate virtual meetings (and other digital workflows) as the default for your firm. Instruct your team to schedule meetings first before offering an in-person get-together. The same goes for client communication, file sharing, and document signing: put digital at the forefront of your process.
4. Adopt the Right Etiquette
Lee E. Miller, influencing and negotiation trainer (and author of UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want) coaches his clients that virtual meetings shouldn’t be confused with in-person meetings.
“The biggest mistake people make is assuming that influencing when you are meeting face to face is the same as influencing when you are interacting virtually. It’s not. The rules are different because people respond differently when they are interacting virtually.”
The basics of etiquette apply, of course. Be polite. Look presentable. Give your attendees the attention they deserve. You know these rules. But we have to take it a bit further in virtual meetings.
- Ask participants to log in five minutes early to check their tech, including their software, microphone, video, and audio. Make yourself available to help them sort out problems.
- Insist that everyone use a simple background. There shouldn’t be a lot of activity or other people. If someone on your team works in a busy or cluttered environment, buy them a simple screen to place behind themselves for meetings.
- Ask everyone to mute themselves when they aren’t speaking. This minimizes background noises and people talking over one another.
- If the call is audio-only, ask everyone to state their names before speaking. You can bend this rule a bit if everyone knows each other.
- Ban multitasking because it doesn’t work. Your attendees shouldn’t use the virtual meeting as an opportunity to reply to emails or work on other projects. Everyone should be mentally present. (Obviously this rule only applies to the participants you can control.) If you think people aren’t paying attention, create lots of touchpoints by asking each person for input, individually.
5. Put the Details in an Email
Before every virtual meeting, it’s important to send two types of information to your participants: an agenda and supplementary data.
The agenda keeps everyone on track. It identifies what you will discuss, which gives everyone a target to prepare for. Everything else is off the table. Your agenda doesn’t need to be a complex document, just a list of bullet points in an email. Send it to everyone who will – or might – attend the meeting.
Internally, your agenda should include your team’s opinion as well. Your team should be a united front, which means agreeing to a strategy or recommendation before the meeting starts so everyone can support it properly.
Supplementary data includes figures, spreadsheets, reports, slide decks, articles, or anything else you plan to reference during the meeting. Sending it ahead of time gives them a chance to review it so you don’t waste precious time reciting dates or figures.
Send this information in an email the day before the meeting. Strongly encourage everyone to develop their own questions and comments beforehand.
What’s most important is that you think about virtual meetings holistically. How do they fit into your entire product offering? Can you – or anyone on your team – spin up a virtual meeting quickly, including inviting the right people, adding the event to calendars, and hosting effectively? Can you create a seamless and frictionless experience for your clients? Remember, the goal is to make them feel that the virtual meetings add value by saving them the trip, rather than introducing unnecessary confusion.
Here are our top four tips on how to improve client experience in an accounting firm.
As the 2023 tax season approaches, we know your workload is about…
Need advice on managing a remote accounting team? In this post, we share essential tips and strategies for effectively working with a distributed team.
As we head into tax season, accounting firms across the nation are…