How to use the tax return season as an opportunity to increase fees and client service levels

Less than 3 weeks to Christmas and how many tax returns have you still to complete ? Finding it difficult to track down clients for missing information and dread to think how you are going to complete the outstanding workload in the time available ? Clients seem to be increasingly grumpy ?

Read on if any of the above strikes a chord and see what you can apply in your own practice that may bring some welcome relief !

  • Assuming that all clients received a letter and 'tax return information checklist' from you back in April and have yet to respond then call them if you haven't done so already. If you know a client doesn't respond to letters then they are unlikely to respond if you just keep sending more letters to them. A quick call, offering to collect their information can sometimes be all that is needed to smooth the process.It also avoids an increase in your blood pressure as they drop paperwork into your office on 29th January !
  • Agree a fixed fee for completing all tax returns and I would suggest the fee is paid upfront; especially where you are working at the last minute to try and meet a deadline.Many firms charge a 'premium rate' for completing returns after the 30 September and offer a reduced fee if clients get their information in to them before this date.
  • Successful firms are confident in charging a client a premium to complete a tax return at this late stage; as long as that client has been given adequate reminders to provide the information earlier in the year and has been put on notice that the fee will go up later in the year.
  • Improved production processes and you managing your workload means improved efficiency,quicker job turnaround,improved cashflow and improved client service levels.
  • Many clients don't provide the outstanding information because they don't actually understand what you need or think you already have it. Again, offer to visit and collect it direct or ask them to drop in their box of papers to you and you will do the sorting for them. Of course, you also need to agree an additional fee for this premium level of service. It is surprising how many clients are happy to pay extra just to take the pain of the problem away from their own doorstep !
  • Some of my more successful clients have already issed the latecomers' with letters saying that any information received from now on cannot be guaranteed to be completed by 31 January. This works well where you have a system in place to show that several reminders and offers to help have already been sent.It is usually the grade C and D clients who are often late and you don't really want these people as clients in the first place !
  • The latecomers are often the type of client who pays late (if they pay at all after disputing your bill) and then cry 'my tax bill can't be that much' and 'how can it be due on 31 January ?! ' Ask yourself 'are these really the type of clients I want to be looking after and spending my time on ?' This may be your opportunity to 'sack' those clients and use your time to better effect on those A grade clients who would welcome your extra input and be happy to pay you for it.
  • Clients are interested in tax; especially when they have a tax bill looming at the end of January.Even if you have yet to complete a clients' return (and have all the information in) then still call them and estimate what they are likely to have to pay.At least you will show that you are trying to give them time to budget and set aside the cash they will need to pay . When talking to them you can agree on a better approach for next year and a way to ensure they do not leave things to the last minute again. Here is your opportunity to increase the clients perception of your service levels and agree the appropriate fee for helping them sooner in 2011.
  • So far, I have assumed that it is the clients that are causing you the problem ! This may not be the case...........if you are your own worst enemy and have allowed the work to build up (sometimes for very valid reasons) then you need to focus on how best to limit the damage to your client service levels.
  • Bite the bullet and call the client. Apologise if you have had their information for some time and tell them when the return will be completed.Offer to deliver it personally for approval. Ensure you then book time in your diary to deliver on this promise. Talk to the client about how you will improve on this service next year.
  • Accountants are often too proud to apologise to a client ( I can only speak personally !). However, experience shows that clients respect honesty and the fact that you too are human. They are more likely to be forgiving if you apologise for poor service and still retain you as their advisor. Clients often leave not just because of lack of communication and poor service but because the accountant wouldn't actually admit to it !
  • Look at my last article to see how to manage your time effectively and keep control of what you should be delivering to clients at this time.
  • Much of what I have said so far relates to communication and managing client service expectations. Where things have gone wrong this year then think about what systems you need to put in place next year to improve the process. Talk to your clients and explain what you are going to do in order to improve your service and allow them to have more time to budget for what their tax liability will be.
  • When talking to a client about next year you should also think about offering them more regular meeting with you. Many clients are happy to pay extra for this and it gives you an ideal opportunity to learm more about their business,offer practical advice and even collect the tax return information you need well ahead of any deadlines !

LOOK TO THE FUTURE...

  • Once you get to 1st February then strike again whilst the iron is hot ! Don't allow yourself to sit back and relax and think 'thank goodness for that .'
  • Book out the first week in February to review where it went right in 2010 and what needs to change in 2011.
  • Put systems in place to ensure that 2011 is your year to improve those client service levels and increase fees, more of which I will cover in my next article.

If you have any specific questions on the above or any other practice management issues then please e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it '; document.write( '' ); document.write( addy_text34894 ); document.write( '<\/a>' ); //--> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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