Art of Accounting: Clients don’t care that it is tax season

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Many of us are consumed with tax season and trying to juggle our schedules and work along with handling the coronavirus situation. However, when a client has a problem or wants something from you, he or she needs your attention. Question: Are you as responsive as you need to be?

Four things happened this past Wednesday that made me think of this. A client is redoing her wills and had some questions about the payments to her children’s guardians should that become terribly necessary. Another client wanted to know when I was going to see him to get his tax information; I always meet with him and besides getting his tax data, we catch up on what has happened during the past year. This year he told me he got cancer and wants to make sure all his affairs are in order and was going to use our meeting to ask all his questions. Note: I was going to tell him to mail me his info since he was in Manhattan and I wanted to skip that trip because of the coronavirus and did not want to take the bus to NYC and then the subway to his office. A third client just had his first grandchild and he wanted me to meet with his son and daughter-in-law to explain a bunch of financial issues they should deal with. The fourth was a referral from another accountant whose client wants to go public and will need an SEC audit. Yes, these all occurred on Wednesday.

How I handled these and what I did is not the issue here. The issue is that clients have lives, confront issues that can stretch over long periods, occasionally need specialized services in somewhat of a hurry and many times want or need an immediate answer or wish to meet with you. We need to be sensitive to these clients' concerns. We are wrapped up in tax season, but they are wrapped up in their activities and sometimes anxieties. Not everything needs immediate attention or problem solving, but they all need an immediate call or possibly a meeting with you. Rushing a call or putting off a meeting might harm a relationship or stop one from beginning.

I find an immediate call with a request to hear out the client is a must. If I can’t call that quickly, I send an email or text saying that I will call them by such and such time and make sure I call earlier than that; even 10 minutes earlier is great! While on the phone I try to find out the issue by having the client fully explain what’s on their mind. I listen and try not to talk too much. The more I talk, the longer the calls lasts, and I know from experience that there is no way to shorten that call. If something needs more time to respond than I have at that moment, I suggest a time when we could talk. If it needs a meeting, I try to schedule the meeting then so I don’t need to get back to them. Many times the client would need to send me something so I ask them to, and tell them I’ll call or meet with them after I’ve been able to review it. That works well because it pushes the action back to the client. However, if I don’t receive anything in a reasonable time, say two weeks, I call them to remind them they owe me something.

We are in a service business. The deliverable is usually something that others can do quite well. The difference is the confidence the client feels in the relationship and your availability. Availability means being available, not just when it isn’t tax season.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Client relations Tax season Coronavirus Ed Mendlowitz Tax practice Client communications Client retention