Setting Your Clients’ Expectations for Tax Season … and Beyond

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Given the complexity of our tax code, tax season is already jam-packed with an intensity of volume over a short period of time. This year, on top of the regular hubbub, we have added to our short season a major tax code change – the biggest change in more than three decades.

With a new Form 1040 and its many accompanying schedules, the availability of final forms in order to e-file may also be a factor on the table, making the filing season even shorter. With more questions from your clients, and perhaps delays on final forms and revenue procedure on the new tax code items, having a different approach to setting your clients’ expectations might be in order.

Be sure you’re communicating with your clients about what you need in order to be efficient and productive.

Set Some Rules

  • Set deadlines for clients to turn in their documents. Encourage this with a discount if they turn in their documentation by a certain date. Make it early enough for you and your firm, not for a client’s usual time of year.
  • Set appointments after April 15 to answer additional client questions. Call these meetings a tax return analysis, tax planning session and/or withholding checkup meetings – whatever fancy title you want. These conversations are not part of the tax preparation itself. Consider adding these value items to a premium service package and offering it to all of your clients, then focus the conversations on the clients who choose the premium service option and not the others.
  • Set boundaries for communications. You are going to get a lot of questions, so let your clients know up front what response time to expect and stick to it! Let them know if it is going to take longer. Try setting office hours for your cell phone and inbox. You can still attend to these after hours; just do drafts for both text messages and emails, and send them later. Why? Clients pay attention to the timestamp that goes with your email, so they’ll think you responded in a short amount of time even though you may not get to write your response until that evening.
  • Set your value and don’t be shy about it. The knowledge we have comes with a price. It is a culmination of the time we’ve spent, the experience we have and all the continuing education hours we take to stay current. Never forget that.

Map it Out

  • Plot by groups the type of filers you have by form and schedule. This will help you target the clients whose tax forms are final for e-file to schedule the work. It’s also a lot easier to have the same conversation many times rather than switching back and forth between the myriad of tax filing situations. Work and output will also improve with a hopeful focus on one tax topic, instead of the return hopping acrobatics our minds usually have to do during tax season. Jumping in and out of different types of tax returns may lead to mistakes and lost time.
  • Go the distance by equipping yourself and your firm with the right information. Know your deadlines and the release dates of the different forms. Be familiar with the various refundable credits and the associated refund processing date. Sign up for IRS email blasts and any other taxing authority you need to know about, and regularly review articles on the Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Pro Center. Stay ahead of your education and learn about new tax code items before you see the client.

Toe the Line

  • Stand your ground by having a hard deadline to put late-comers on extension. If you don’t already have this policy in place, create it. This hard deadline is for two reasons. First, it is for your clients to turn in their documents, and second, it is for the IRS if a form has not been made final yet, or a certain revenue procedure has not yet been released. Don’t force something that is just not meant to be. Letting your clients’ bad habits become yours is a very slippery slope, and there’s definitely nothing you can do if the IRS is not ready.

Don’t forget that you are in control of your tax season, or at least most of it – tax authorities excluded. Think of it this way: There are two types of people who sit down at a desk. There are the ones who sit down and work with the computer as is, and there are the ones who move the chair, mouse, keyboard, screen position and other items on the desk in order to have them in the optimal position. Be the mover and not the participant. Good luck this tax season!

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