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Improve Your Tax Season by Changing Your Client Communications

Changing the way you deal with your clients can have a positive impact on your workflow and improve your tax season.

As an accountant, I always worked hard, I have a high tolerance for pressure and can sustain long working hours for extended periods.

However, every January, without fail, I nearly broke myself. The sheer volume of work, communications, checklists, and correspondence were overwhelming. The pressure is enormous, tempers are frayed and you never actually know if you will make it, until you do.

Then you get on with all the work that you did not do because you were so busy with tax returns, and before you know it, it’s November again and you may have filed less than 5% of your tax returns, if you’re lucky.

Ok, hopefully it is not that bad for everyone but it usually a pretty tough time of year for those of us in the accounting profession.

Regardless of the fees being paid for the tax returns, one of the biggest challenges I faced was simply getting the information in from clients. I never understood the struggle I used to have with this! Key problems for clients used to be:

  • Appreciating that although the deadline is 31 Jan, it is actually possible to do the work earlier than that
  • Sending information in all at the same time
  • Answering all of my questions in one email, not 7
  • Continually disbelieving that I really did need to know how much interest they’d earned, with supporting certificates (back in the day when it was taxed at source), and just sending comments like ‘it was hardly anything’.
  • Responding to my requests for their paperwork with ‘don’t you already have everything…’

And that’s just the limited company directors.

Do not even get me started on the sole traders!

It took me a while to understand that most of our problems (within this context) ultimately, rest with ourselves, are caused by own approaches to the work, and are fully within our control to affect and change if we can but try.

Why did clients not respond straight away?

Well, firstly because I was not asking early enough – I was too busy and the fees were too low for this element of the work to be a priority before it really was a priority!

Secondly, because they knew I would do the work, regardless of when they brought it in, because I always did, and because I didn’t tell them that I might not.

Thirdly, because there was no incentive for them to do so – as much as tax returns were always bottom of my list, they definitely aren’t top of the average person’s to-do list either.

Why did clients never send the right information?

How clear are you, really? Are you talking the language of the client, or are you talking the language of the professional, or even worse, HMRC. Have you given them back the information they gave you last year? In a nice simple list for them to check through?

And have you ever used…. ‘And any other information that might be relevant’ to cover off everything you cannot be bothered to write down… I did. I wonder why they never sent me that other, relevant, information.

Did I always tailor my communications to cover the information I did already have? If you ask someone for their P60, and they know perfectly well that you do their payroll, do not they have every right to respond with ‘don’t you already have everything’?

Why does information always come in in ‘dribs and drabs’?

Because I never set up a framework for the clients to follow – I would just ask them for the information, and they would send it through as they got it.

It took me a long time of constantly running around and putting out fires that were mostly caused by the fact that I was too busy putting them out to stop them starting in the first place, before I finally stepped back and decided that I could affect the change that I needed to see.

Eventually I started to realise that in order to get the results and outcomes that we want, we have to ensure that we are actually asking for them, in the right way, and providing clear and structured process for people to follow.

In almost all areas of business (and to an extent, life), if we do not have a clearly defined goal, then it is very hard to obtain it.

By Jane Aylwin, SmartVault

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