We are in the midst of an overwhelming tax season. The significant number of tax law changes coupled with the late start to e-filing and the IRS mail backup has created a bit of a nightmare, but I do not need to explain that to you. Right now, we are all in go-mode. However, clients seem to be completely ignorant of the excess added to our plates, so how should we be effectively communicating that with them?
1. Start with empathy and compassion.
Be vulnerable with your clients. Do not wait for them to hound you and respond with the adage “I’m only one person” out of pure anxiety. Tell them the landscape of this tax year and what you are doing to keep on track. They will always believe that their account is the most important and that they need your attention immediately. Express to them that this year has almost doubled our work and we still want to take care of all of our clients. Explain to them that you may need to extend their return this year to give it the full consideration they need.
I recommend starting with an explanation of the landscape and the facts of the situation. Then you can get into how that is professionally affecting you and your firm, and finally end with the personal side.
2. Time management is your best friend.
Most tax firms have a project management system and fantastic plans at the beginning of tax season for timing. And then we do not get the information promised in time, we end up with clients needing things faster for some bank or another, and best laid plans get thrown away and we go into firefighter mode.
That being said, planning is still your friend. Do you know that client that always promises information and then sends it the week of the deadline? Yeah, they are getting extended preemptively. Be open and honest and proactive with clients about extensions and planning. Make sure you are leaving a reasonable amount of time to deal with the extra, the clients that forgot they got a PPP loan, forgot that they marked that they don’t file for the stimulus check, and cannot find the SSN of their new baby.
3. Be kind to yourself.
Sleep. Drink water. Read new law thoroughly. Do not feel like you have to rush. It is only taxes – no one will die.
Get up and take walks – it has been proven to help your brain!
4. Communicate status early.
Are you using a project management system? Can you automate status updates to clients? If not, do you have an assistant that can give estimates to clients as to when they will have payment amounts? Or when their actual returns will be ready?
Clients will be happier if they know what is going on. Many tax accountants’ inboxes are like a black hole during season. Delicate communication to a robot or an assistant.
5. Covid-era everything has changed.
This year will not be the same as any other year. Remember that your clients are human too and should be able to understand that (and if not, they do not sound like a good clients). Whatever you do, avoid getting into the anxiety shutdown communication mode where clients do not know what is happening. That will make everything feel like a fire drill. Additionally, be proactive in asking for empathy and telling your clients when they will be extended. And do not forget to be kind to yourself.