Have you ever stopped to think about the experience your individual and business tax clients have with your firm? For many clients, it will be the same-old, same-old routine as last year—dropping off source docs, maneuvering within user-unfriendly portals, or worse, communicating via highly insecure and siloed email channels. Is this really what you want for your clients? Probably not. So, it’s time to ditch the same old and be intentional about supporting your clients with a superior experience in the coming tax season.
Let’s now dive deeper into what it means to run with a same-old client experience:
- In early January, you either mail out physical copies or upload tax organizers to client portals. Organizers, whether printed or in PDF, average about 30 pages.
- You physically mail, email, or upload engagement letters to client portals.
- Your clients schedule appointments via email or by calling reception.
- If no appointment is necessary, clients drop off source documents at your office, mail docs, email scanned copies, or upload documents to their portal.
- As returns are processed, staff and clients email information back and forth.
- As you wrap up returns, you either email or upload Form 8879 for signature.
- Next, you deliver returns via mail, email, or portals, or clients pick up printed copies.
- And, finally, it’s time to invoice clients. You likely mail or email invoices for payment. It’s the rare firm that supports online payment.
Does this sound all too familiar?
This old way of doing business plays out in firms from coast to coast every tax season. And at every stage of a same-old process, the client experience will prove less than stellar.
Next, let’s dissect this familiar process further and take a look at its effect on the client’s experience.
Client tax organizers: Typically, less than 25 percent of clients actually engage with the client organizer. This is likely because it spans about 30 pages in length. Think about that for a moment. How would you feel receiving a 30-page document from one of your professional service providers, such as your attorney or doctor? Probably not great. Bogging clients down with extensive paperwork just feels old-school, and will most certainly taint their overall experience with your firm from the start.
Use of client portals: Most annual tax clients only use the portal once a year. And by the time the next tax season rolls around, they’ve forgotten their passwords. This often prompts a call to the office for help. Even with “Forgot Your Password?” functionality, this creates an added level of friction in the process, and again, does not add to a positive client experience.
Engagement letters: Consider what percentage of your clients actually sign an individual tax engagement letter. This process is about as easy as herding cats. It’s likely you are either mailing engagement letters or using a third-party solution to collect digital signatures. Either way, it amounts to a disjointed, non-automated process. Again, not a great client experience and a lot of work for staff… trying to wrangle all those cats.
Email: Because 91% of data breaches start with a simple email, this is the last communication channel firms should be employing to “collaborate” with clients. Sending sensitive information back and forth via email is a data breach disaster waiting to happen. Additionally, email as the primary mode of communication creates silos, as messages are held hostage within individual staff inboxes. It also means kissing any hope of workflow transparency goodbye. All of this translates into bottlenecked processes and heightened security risks.
Tax return delivery: In an ideal world, initial document collection through to final delivery of the return would be streamlined and automated. Moving to third-party apps for digital signatures or portals for document exchange was a step in the right direction several years ago. Today, however, neither can support an end-to-end, frictionless experience for clients.
A firm divided…
In terms of workflow, firms are split down the middle. There’s a back office where the technical work takes place, like processing payroll, tax returns, and so on. There’s also a front office where all the front-end work happens, including client communications. Traditionally, firms have focused solely on solving for back-office challenges—how to get the technical work done. But it’s primarily the front-office work that molds the client experience.
To create a rich client experience, the time has come to focus on the tools required for front-office work. This includes platforms that offer the highest level of security; support streamlined, transparent client communications; and offer clients a mobile option. Modern, secure sharing platforms offer one-tap signature functionality, automated notifications, easy document upload, advanced searching via tagged documents, and so much more.
Stop doing things the same way just because it’s the way they’ve always been done. Make this the year of change. Make this the year you focus on your front office and change the tax season experience for your clients. There are solutions that exist for the profession that solve the pain points inherent in the tax process—solutions that will not only offer a frictionless experience for clients, but will also support a far better front-office workflow for your team.
It’s a digitally driven world we live in. So, why aren’t more firms harnessing the power of advanced technologies to serve up a superior client experience—especially during what is arguably one of the most stressful times of year? Take the first big step away from same-old, same-old and be international this year about building a superior client experience.
Author Bio: A familiar face in the accounting profession, Darren is recognized by peers as an innovative influencer. He’s been named on the “Top 25 Most Influential People” by CPA Practice Advisors, and “Top 100 Most Influential People” by Accounting Today multiple times. Darren founded RootAdvisors and Rootworks, the accounting profession’s nationally based membership organization for entrepreneurship and professional development. He’s also written several top-selling books including The Intentional Accountant. Darren’s years of experience running both a successful CPA firm and Rootworks positions him to successfully lead the Liscio team. Darren earned his CPA at Deloitte in 1989 and a BS degree in accounting from Indiana University.