Lacerte users want respect from their tax software vendor. And if they don’t get it soon, they’re going to look at alternatives.
 
TurboTax customers were thrown into the spotlight after Intuit’s servers failed to process their 11th-hour returns on April 17. But some Lacerte users who spend a lot more money buying and recommending Intuit’s products to their clients felt they were left in the dark.
 
Laypeople whose electronic returns were not received because of the technical malfunction were given until midnight on April 19 to get those returns to the Internal Revenue Service and told late filing penalties would not apply them. Intuit also indicated it would pay any penalties they might incur.
 
But what about the professional last-minute filers among the potentially “several hundred thousand” affected by the glitch? Intuit processed 3 million electronic returns this year and 60 percent of them were professional, according to the company.
 
Roughly 100 preparers who subscribe to an online Lacerte user discussion group agreed to sign a letter to Intuit leadership indicating that they expressed “shock” and “surprise” to learn they shared a common server with TurboTax users who “pay a pittance” compared to what they do while “Lacerte users who are spending thousands (if not tens have thousands) have largely been ignored.” They demanded to know what steps Lacerte will take to “make sure this latest fiasco will never happen again.”
 
In Intuit’s defense, Sasan Goodzari, vice president of Intuit’s Professional Tax Business, wrote to both Lacerte and ProSeries customers, guaranteeing on-time submissions of tax returns going forward and promising reimbursement for any late filing penalties. He defended the company’s efile system, noting that it is designed to deliver more than 150 percent of projected capacity. The company identified two separate database failures, resolved one and is investigating the other, according to Goodzari, who also said he plans to update customers on Intuit’s progress every few weeks.
 
Adding to its mea culpa, the company phoned several customers -- a spokesperson could not divulge how many -- to apologize for the incident, which left several accountants stuck trying to satisfying their clients days after they had expected to be free of the season’s headaches. But because the people who called the customers wouldn’t comment on their technical questions, the course of action may have done more harm than good.
 
This past week, a handful of the disgruntled customers decided they are going to evaluate other software. Creative Solutions’ and CCH’s names were tossed around but the most popular seemed to be Drake Software, which sent free versions of its 2006 package to some prospects the day after tax season and is offering a $400 discount through the end of May.
 
What’s upsetting is that even though the Lacerte customers admitted that Drake probably couldn’t handle all of their needs, they were considering switching temporarily or handling a portion of their returns with Drake simply because they felt they got more attention and respect from that vendor than from Intuit. Notably, Drake is known for superior customer service (the vendor boasts wait times of only nine seconds). But one Lacerte user was impressed simply because Drake support staff actually answered his phone calls twice in one day whereas he claims to have waited a week for Lacerte to answer a question he emailed to tech support.
 
No one looks forward to switching vendors. It’s a big hassle and sometimes not worth the investment. Lacerte customers are no different. They just want to be treated like professionals and receive answers in a timely fashion. And shouldn’t this be possible with nearly 1,000 full-time employees dedicated to “serving accountants,” according to Bill Whitson, ProTax product manager for the Accountant Training Network.
 
For his part, Whitson devotes a bulk of his time answering customer concerns on the discussion forum. But threats to abandon ship in light of the April 17 snafu sparked him to bid them farewell.
 
“For those that are leaving -- I wish you the best of luck. Make sure you go through the training and do everything you can to flatten what might be a steep learning curve,” he wrote Wednesday. “For those looking -- go for it. I think Lacerte holds its own. You will be the judge.”

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