4 New Year's Resolutions to Prepare Clients for Tax Season

With a new year comes New Year’s resolutions. You know, those things you resolve to do, or do better, but which often never materialize.

I was recently reading the Amazon book reviews for Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. In one of them, the reviewer summarizes the crux of the book: If we can appeal to our emotions, give our mind directions, and flatten out the path ahead as much as possible, we’re much more likely to actually get somewhere.

To that end, here are four “experimental” ideas on how we can help ourselves and our clients have a happier tax season:

One: Get Rid of Tax Organizers!

I know, I know … this probably sounds crazy. To be honest, our firm is still using them, but the more I use them and the more I listen to our clients, the more I’m convinced that organizers help us, not them.

To be fair, there are a few clients who rely on our worksheets to help them gather together their numbers, but maybe this may be more of an indicator that they don’t have a good system to begin with. Something in the back of my head tells me that a simple letter, with perhaps a general list of possible tax documents to jog their memory, would be more helpful than a 10-page form. After all, they are the ones coming to us to avoid filling out forms; it’s only us who aren’t intimidated by the boxes and line numbers because we do it all day long.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use organizers in-house to take our notes on and have as support documentation, but saving our clients the anxiety of seeing yet another form during tax season may lead to many thanks, not to mention less scratching out of uncompleted pages.

Two: Increase Transparency

Making sure everybody knows your process helps keep everyone happy. Announce your submission cut-off dates. Let them know how you address situations where information is missing. Be sure they know your preparation price, in advance if at all possible. Keep them updated as their return moves through different phases of preparation. List your communication methods and hours, and let them know typical response times. Put frequently asked questions on your website, and refer clients to it often.

Don’t keep things a mystery, because I can almost guarantee it will lead to a misunderstanding. A lot of this comes from thinking through your process in advance so that you can communicate it and be consistent in the application of it. Managing expectations means everyone is working together toward one common goal.

Three: Think One Year Ahead

This year’s tax season is actually a good preparation for tax season next year … you could even consider it a dry run. Instead of just murmuring about how a particular client always gets a particular thing wrong, come up with a way to identify pain points for follow up later in the year.

You could even be so bold as to let your clients know you’ll be asking what was hard about getting ready for me this year? It lets them know you care, lets you both better prepare, and releases the tension because both of you know this year is merely a stepping stone to a better next year. There’s even some additional revenue to be made by asking the question.

Four: Prepare Questions to Ask Yourself

How about preparing a list of questions your client’s should be asking you? Many hired us because they simply don’t know what to look out for. As hard as it is sometimes, maybe we can put ourselves in their shoes and say: “Knowing what I know, but coming from their perspective, what would I want to ask myself to make sure I was doing things right? How do I take advantage of the best ideas for my personal or business finances?

After some brainstorming, provide that list to your clients and maybe include along with your letter from #1, and see what they bring up to you during your tax interview. I’m going to guess there’ll be some good surprises.

Okay, so honest admission time: I haven’t actually read the Heath brother’s book Switch. It’s actually one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013. Still, the emotional desire to help my team and clients, combined with the instruction I’m sure I’ll find in it and the easy path of downloading a Kindle e-book, is all the more likely to make sure that next year this time, I’ll have grown that much more.

I hope the above ideas help you either directly or indirectly to grow a little more too, and be sure to share any thoughts or resolutions in the comments section below. 2013, here we come!