Processes: Recently, I had the opportunity to tour an Amazon fulfillment center with my family. The experience of walking through this amazing facility was incredible, and afterward, I thought about how we could apply the fulfillment process at Amazon to accounting services.
Can we Apply Amazon’s Processes to an Accounting Firm?
Processes: The Amazon Process
This particular Amazon fulfillment facility stocks products that are no larger than a coffee maker. As you would expect, all of the items are barcoded and tracked. Orders are sent electronically to a handheld device where the picker is directed to the appropriate location in the warehouse, selects the item, places the item in a bin (which is also barcoded), and then continues on to do this for several orders, sending a cart full of bins and items it on their way through the process.
Next, in packaging, the size of the box is predetermined according to the weight and dimensions of all the items in an order. After the box is filled with a pre-calculated number of air packets, the box is sealed with a precisely measured length of tape. The package is then automatically positioned, so the label gets attached at the right spot to later be scanned and automatically shuffled to the right truck or cargo container to be flown to the next destination.
It’s very intentional how things are done at an Amazon fulfillment center because they decided to “think outside the box.” In fact, for me, one of the most amazing parts of the process happened early on in our tour. For all the intentionality, there was one part that seemed to defy this mantra.
They use something they called “randomized” storing, which means there’s not a dedicated section for each item. Items are stored randomly next to each other, so there is no wasted space. The idea is that if there is a section saved for a particular item and they sell a large number of those items, that space will be empty waiting for more of that particular item to arrive. Instead, they mix and match the storage of items using barcoding by bin location to find the items they need. For example, laundry soap might be next to a coffee maker, which may be next to a toy. It was fascinating to see the “randomness” and yet how efficiently it worked!
Processes: Applying the Process to Accounting Services
I began to think about how we could apply this Amazon process to how we handle accounting services. I’m not saying that we should randomize services in an accounting firm, but I do think it’s time to think differently about the services we provide. We may offer the same services, but the way we provide these services might be different. Documenting and mapping out the processes throughout our firm in the most efficient way is certainly worth spending some time contemplating.
With the technology we have at our disposal, we can focus on the end goal of helping our clients run their organizations more effectively and profitably AND do the same for our own firm! If we look at our processes a little differently, perhaps update our thinking to be “outside the box”, we may come up with some great ideas that may seem crazy or non-traditional to some, but allow us to be more efficient and effective. An updated way of thinking may be to organize our teams where more than one person touches a client, or use non-accounting professionals in the onboarding process, or maybe have one team member do all bill payments for all clients. Your firm may provide tax returns to clients, and include it in the monthly fee, rather than billed separately at the end of the year, or partner only certain types of clients with specific types of services that you will offer while partnering with another firm to do the other services they need.
- Yes, we want to be efficient.
- Yes, we want to utilize our people as effectively as possible.
- Yes, we want to serve our clients well throughout the entire process.
So do think about what you do a little differently?
Utilize technology to your advantage instead of running from it. Embrace the change as an opportunity to find ways to improve your service delivery, rather than diminish it. Delight your customers, run your firm more efficiently, scale for busy seasons and all the while be profitable and enjoy your work more!
Carla Caldwell is the founder and CEO of Caldwell Consulting & Training. She strategically guides accounting teams to become a modern practice.
Carla works with accounting firms to implement the tools and processes that help them be more successful. Focusing on the strategic goals of the firm, she provides coaching to individual leaders in the organization that may be transitioning from “doer” to leader. These leaders learn Carla’s systematic approach to implementing change in the accounting services team, whether they are revamping processes to fully utilize the team or implementing apps to fulfill their goals and scale the business unit. Learn more about Caldwell Consulting & Training.