Choice architecture for interacting with clients


In my recent article Libertarian paternalist, we talked about the ways in which CPAs can (and should) become the “choice architects.” One of the best ways to do that is to “nudge” clients strategically toward choices that are in their best interest without limiting choice. If you’re curious, the term “choice architecture” was coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

One of the biggest areas of friction I see between CPAs and their clients is in the area of document sharing. CPAs can’t complete their clients’ tax returns, financial statements or business transition plans without the supporting documents. But clients don’t have the time or patience to make copies of key documents and then drive to their CPA’s office to drop them off. They don’t even have time to make scans, convert them to PDFs and then email them to their CPA. So, they text a photo of the document with a message saying: “I don’t know if you need this, but here it is.” Why is this a problem? First, the documents are on your phone, and you could forget to file them in the correct location. Who knows who else at the firm is receiving documents via text and not communicating effectively.

In today’s time-pressed Amazon economy, clients are increasingly expecting convenience if they’re going to continue working with you. No matter how good your technical skills and knowledge are, if you can’t make it as easy as possible for clients to get you the documents and supporting information they need, they’re going to switch to another firm that can.

Text delivery may be super convenient for your client, but it doesn’t make your life any easier, does it?

I have two daughters, ages three and six. If they tell me they’re eating chocolate bars all day long, that diet works for them, but not for their mother and me. To prevent that dietary disaster from happening, we could force them to substitute squash casserole or broccoli for the chocolate. Or we could be choice architects and ask them to consider eating raspberries or blueberries. The girls are happy because they love berries and think they’re eating dessert all day. My wife and I are happy because at least they’re eating plenty of fruit.

So, what does this have to do with your practice? Plenty. Clients pay you to make their headaches go away, but they can’t spend all day preparing and sending the documents you need. Until recently, clients either had to drop off the documents at your office, mail you physical copies, or scan each document to a PDF and then upload the PDF to a folder in your client portal. Each option was time-consuming. Since many of your clients are extremely busy, they’re not crazy about any of the choices mentioned above. Remember, in this Amazon economy, clients are paying for convenience. If they don’t feel it’s convenient to work with you, they’ll go to another firm that will make their life easier.

So, how do you create a choice architecture that works for you and is also convenient for the client? Here are three options to make life easier — for both you and your clients. I’ve ranked them in terms of good, better and best:

1. Good — Text documents to a dedicated phone number. For clients who enjoy texting, services like Dialpad, RingCentral and Yodel allow them to text photos of their important documents to a specific number and then the documents will be captured in one location on your computer. (Disclaimer: The author has no financial or promotional agreements with any of the products or services mentioned in this article. Mention of the products or services are for illustrative purposes only and should not imply an endorsement.) A member of your client support team can then confirm with the client that you received the documents and will put them in the right place. Clients really love this convenience and so will you.

That’s a good example of choice architecture because the solution works for your client, and it works for you.

2. Better — Teach clients to use a simple scanning app on a phone. Apps like TurboScan allow clients to take a photo of a document they need to send you and then have it automatically converted into a PDF, which is much better for your purposes. Another handy feature is that a multipage document can easily be combined into a single PDF, which is then emailed to you. TurboScan is simple to use. If clients are struggling with it, a three-minute call from one of your client service reps can get them up to speed. Or you can send them a quick Loom video tutorial. For more on using Loom, see my article about video-messaging tools.

3. Best — Use an interactive portal. It’s no secret that our profession is moving from client document storage to interactive portals just like many medical offices are. Tools like TaxCaddy are user-friendly tools that allow clients to scan and upload their important documents to a portal all year round, rather than storing them in a pile and mailing them all in at tax time. The portal also allows clients to send and receive messages with you and see to-dos and action items about outstanding documents they need to send you. Tools like TaxCaddy are clearly more robust (with a steeper learning curve) than the other solutions above and will require some training for your team and your clients.

The key to making choice architecture work is to give clients options that are easy for them and convenient for you. Position those tools as a value-add that make it easier for clients to work with you.

As tech entrepreneur Tom Anderson likes to say, “I tend to ‘splurge’ for convenience. I’ll pay a lot to not waste time.”

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