Paperless in the boardroom

Going digital should not change your approach to client service.

What does it mean to convert to a paperless environment? More specifically, how will going digital impact client meetings? Is it just about getting a tablet or two for easy access to documents that can be viewed with the client? These questions were put to me recently, but they’re issues that more firms are dealing with as they transition to electronic work environments. The reality is that depending on the comfort level you and your clients have with technology, not too much will change — at least for now.

It’s important to understand that paperless refers to all productivity gains that are available in the manufacturing life cycle of our products: production, publication, delivery and archival. Paperless does not mean that we fundamentally change our approach to client service.

As CPAs, our product is our expert knowledge (see “Special Delivery for Your Documents,” April): the interpretation of data, presentation of results, recommendations for action, compliance reporting, etc. We structure and package our knowledge into a document and provide the delivered product to our clients. We can easily deliver it in a paper package, as well as deliver another copy in an on-demand, online electronic package via our secure portal. It’s not an either/or scenario.

With that understanding, let’s reframe the question to ask: what type of container should we use when we deliver and discuss our product in a live client meeting?

By its very nature, a client meeting implies we are speaking to the delivered document. Our priority remains client service, second is client confidence and finally, presentation space availability. Each merits a deeper look.

Client service

The scenario: your client is not comfortable with the electronic world.

If the client is not tech savvy, print paper copies of the documents you wish to discuss. At the end of the meeting, the client can take his or her copy and you can trash yours (as you will have all the content in your archived document). Whenever and as often as the client wants, he or she can download your product from your portal and receive it in an electronic package.

Client confidence

The scenario: your client is comfortable with electronic content review but you are not.

You don’t want the client to wonder about your professional competence, nor do you want to be distracted due to technical issues. If you are not comfortable with electronically reviewing your product with a client, print paper copies for the meeting.

Electronic meeting presentation space availability

Electronic meetings may require more presentation space than you currently have. When discussing your delivered content, you may need to cross-reference more than one document or more than one location within one document. You may also have multiple people attending the meeting, which means that all participants must be able to view your product.

It is very common for a client meeting to require two or more electronic projectors, monitors, tablets, etc. If the meeting requires you to spread out your documents, then paper may be the way to go to ensure that you have the presentation space available.

I’ve found that few firms can consistently hold electronic client meetings, due to one or more of the above reasons. As you progress into a completely paperless review, you will develop and refine the navigational techniques and application confidence required to successfully hold electronic client meetings. Once your firm has enough electronic space to hold your meetings, you’ll be ready to provide this client service experience.