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How to design customer-centric services

In an increasingly competitive and technology-driven environment, accounting firms should consider implementing human-centred service design in order to stay relevant.

Insights Trent McLaren, Intuit 10 June 2017
— 3 minute read

Today’s changing business environment paired with increased global competition creates high pressure for companies to create useful products and services at an increasing speed.


Consumers demand intuitive and seamless experiences from the products and services they interact with and the relevance of service design as a contributor to service innovation has grown significantly.

While service design is important to any business, to an early-stage technology start-up discovering the right business model it could be critical.

Now if you’re working in accounting firm you’re probably wondering what the heck has this go to do with me? We don’t operate a tech start-up, we’re accountants.

And you are correct, today you are an accountant... But as we’ve seen and heard with all the innovation due to be delivered in the next two years, accounting firms will fast become technology hubs for their small business clients, with an expectation that there will be an equal amount of developers and perhaps coders on team as there are accountants.

Partners will be there to review and analyse the work and the developers will become the data engineers, connecting all information from a small business' outdated systems into the cloud accounting central hub.

Accountants are becoming more technology focused and we need to realise that soon accounting firms will need to look at how technology-based start-ups create and deliver outstanding products and services to their customers.

Consumers have very big expectations and hope that the quality of the products and services they use is consistent. With new digital channels and tools constantly emerging, companies must become more agile, iterating much more quickly to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions.

The relevance of service design as a contributor to service innovation is increasing significantly, as it helps to develop the in-depth customer understanding to manage this transition.

Before we continue, what is service design or human-centred design?

Human-centred design (HCD) is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualising, developing, and implementing the solution.

Human-centred design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge, and techniques. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human wellbeing, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance.

As accounting and bookkeeping firms are looking to reinvent themselves there is a lot talk and chatter out there about becoming trusted advisers to their clients.

In my opinion, there is a whole lot of talking about becoming trusted advisers, but very little practical action being taken to become trusted advisers.

Whilst firms agree they need to move into advisory and generating new revenues by creating these valued relationships, research shows that it still only represents 10 per cent of a firm’s revenue, with no increase from the previous year, which I believe indicates we are all talk and no action.

Now this isn’t because we’re lazy, it’s because we don’t know how to implement true value-added services.

There are plenty of great resources available to help introduce service design thinking into your accounting or bookkeeping firm.

It all starts and ends with your customer experience. The first step is called ‘design for delight’, in which you sit down with your team and talk about known customer problems and experience.

You proceed to workshop together how you can solve these problems. Everything starts and ends with your customer in mind.

Another initiative called the ‘follow me home’ program, which will see anyone in every department, from your directors and partners to your junior accountants, out on the road with your customer, observing the way they run their business, not just within their accounting software, but everything else surrounding that.

The insights you can achieve by following customers around all day is outstanding. This is where all of your golden nuggets will come from and the fuel you need to start developing products or services driven to solve customer problems.

The next part of the process is to conduct a lean test — meaning test your solution on small scale, evaluate, tweak if necessary and test again. This process is repeated until you are satisfied with the results and then you scale your problem-solving solution.

Stepping into true trusted advisory means understanding what your customer problems are and being able to give them the right advice on the direction they should take in their business.

When your firm learns how to implement human-centred design it also becomes a key differentiator and also a methodology that your clients can benefit from, creating potential for other revenue streams.

The beauty of this is, if you can help your clients grow their business, they will help you grow yours.

So when you’re next looking at how to stay relevant, I strongly encourage you to take a look at the methodologies and principles behind human-centred design and become a customer-focused accounting firm. It can be the difference between you and the next firm up the road.

How to design customer-centric services
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