[IMGCAP(1)]"It is really clear from the stats and my own personal intuition that a lot of energy in the ecosystem is going to mobile, not desktop."

These words could have been uttered by anyone in the technology field, including me as the founder of a software company. However, they are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s words, according to a September 12 article in The Inquirer about the company’s focus on the mobile space. And, based on my experience as the owner of one of the largest retail tax preparers on Lansing, Mich., I have noticed within the last two years my customers’ growing use of and reliance on mobile smartphones.

Thus several years ago, sensing the trend toward mobile, we incorporated a time-saving and convenient feature designed by my software company that allows my tax customers to receive text message notifications on their phones when their tax returns are complete. That was a groundbreaking first step toward communicating with our customers on the go. Now, for the upcoming filing season, we are taking that a step further by allowing our customers to fully engage with us via their smartphones, just as if they were using their desktop computers, and making sure the experience incorporates several key factors to ensure success.

 

A little background

Going mobile for filing taxes will inevitably be the trend. Late last month, it was reported that the South African Revenue Service had launched a mobile site and application to enable their country’s residents to e-file individual income tax returns from their cellphones or tablets. Given the rapid trend toward mobile use, it won’t be long until other countries, looking to utilize the convenience and speed of mobile, follow suit.

According to a new study conducted by OnDevice Research on behalf of mobile ad network InMobi, Americans now spend more time on their mobile devices than any other platform. And another recent study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau revealed that nearly 70 percent of mobile phone users take their devices everywhere. And Mashable has written about how mobile will soon overtake the web: “Morgan Stanley’s analysts believe that, based on the current rate of change and adoption, the mobile Web will be bigger than desktop Internet use by 2015.”

Thus, we incorporated a mobile feature that allows customers to access their own client portals via mobile devices. The client portals have been one of the biggest benefits of the paperless tax office. Our users rave about the time and money saving benefits the client portal offers -- allowing their customers direct access to their accounts via a secure portal site that has resulted in increasing efficiency of their tax businesses. Now these customers can access their private portals via their own smartphones.

 

Seven tips for a positive mobile tax experience

When developing mobile components for retail tax businesses around the country, the smartphone features needed to take into account many important aspects so that tax customers would be able to successfully engage.

1. Reconfigure your client portal for mobile. As you know by now if you’ve read this far, everyone is going mobile, and that includes those who are more and more frequently using the Web via their mobile devices. You want to make sure that your customers have an engaging experience when visiting their own client portals, either from their desktop or from their Smartphone, so make sure the portal looks good on a mobile screen as well as a desktop screen.

2. Easy to access. Regardless of the client’s location, be it at home, in the office, or at the mall, make your customer’s mobile experience easy to access and navigate. Clients will become frustrated if they are forced to wait for their portal to download, or have trouble logging in and navigating the portal site.

3. Make it relevant. Keep communications with customers to pertinent information that might affect the nature and status of their returns. Don’t overwhelm their mobile experience with too many content distractions.

4. Make it safe. Ensure that clients logging into their files, via mobile, have a safe experience. Be sure that login and password information is differentiated and safely stored so that the client’s mind is at ease when logging in on their smartphones.

5. Easy to read. Allowing a client to view their tax returns and other financial statements via a mobile screen sounds like a challenge, but you can make it easy for them by ensuring that the tools exist to easily zoom in and read any and all of the lines and figures on their documents.

6. Make it convenient. You want the client to quickly and easily be able to directly send messages, schedule appointments, attach documents such as W-2s, and update contact information (address, phone number and e-mail).

7. In the now. Make sure mobile allows clients to track the status of their return from drop off to completion -- let them be aware when the return was accepted by the Internal Revenue Service, state or city -- and be able to check where the return is every step of the way, at that moment, just like following a FedEx delivery!

 

Betting on the trends

I have noticed the marked difference in my business by going with the more customer-friendly technological advances of our day. Not only do our tax customers have a better experience when getting their taxes done, but they've taken to the social media airwaves -- another technological adaptation we've instituted -- to comment about the ease and convenience of our services, and in turn have invited others to join the fun.

Rather than fight technology, we're doing the opposite. As a result, we’re gaining customers, increasing revenue, and saving money by avoiding overtime costs, all while providing exceptional, round-the-clock customer service. We anticipate that going mobile will only increase our reputation as Lansing's favorite tax professionals. Being a preferred local tax preparer is a result of making the right choices, i.e., choosing to implement the latest technology. Thus, we are embracing our customers’ choice of using their mobile devices, not only in our offices, but wherever they might be, and so should you!

 

Mark Pricco, CPA, is the president and founder of ATOM Software, a company whose tax office management system helps accountants and tax preparers nationwide convert to a paperless process. He is also the president and founder of X-Tax, a Lansing, Mich.-based CPA and retail tax services firm.