Art of Accounting: Communicating with clients during tax season and coronavirus
Keeping in touch with clients is very important, especially during this period of isolation. Here is a way to provide updates to clients regarding their tax returns and to keep in touch generally.
First of all, everyone knows about the extended due date to July 15, but very few clients know how it will affect them and when they could expect to get their return completed. By now, most accountants have already spoken to their clients but, if you haven’t, I suggest calling each one to give an update. If you do not, they will definitely be calling you at some point, so this is a way to head off their call and show you are caring about them.
For returns you have completed, I suggest calling every client that has a balance due or an unexpected result with the reasons. You can make the calls from around 8:00 p.m. until around 9:30 p.m. I figure that if you are working late to help your clients, then the least they could do is talk to you “after hours.” I make a lot of these calls to individual clients starting at 8:00 p.m. since that is when things quiet down and the day’s production of tax returns is pretty much finished. However, I always call my business clients during business hours; I do not want to get them in the habit of after-hours calls.
When I make these late calls, no one minds and actually they appreciate it, with many expressing pleasure that I cared about them to give them a heads up. This also gives an opportunity for a substantive contact with the client, and to avoid having the client call me when they’ve received and looked at the return and want to know why there was a balance due or an unexpected result. Perhaps they would also be a little agitated by what they saw.
Another way of communicating — or rather managing client communications — is to designate a special time during the day when you return calls. Encourage clients to call you as much as they want and to leave detailed messages, or to text or email you with any questions or comments they want to make. Tell them you will respond to all calls, texts and emails between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. or, if that is not good for them, to give you a more convenient time for them.
What this does is keep the channels of communication open, lets them call, text or email you whenever and however and as often as they want, and enables them to get their questions off their minds. They will also have the confidence that you will respond in the time period you’ve provided so they will more than likely be free to accept your call. This idea was suggested by Mel Leone, a CPA from Huntington, New York, who commented that, with clients sequestered in their houses, they have more time to inundate him with their calls. Also, the 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. window sends a “message” that your call will be brief and not chatty.
If a client’s calls or questions will require time for you to prepare, you should either call, email or text a time when you will call them to respond to their question, so it is not something you would need to stop and work on.
Another thing I am doing more of is to call clients to “check in” and see how they are doing. This shows availability and that I care and also that I might find out some ways I could help them. I particularly try to call clients who are home alone.
I mentioned previously that Zoom and Skype work well, and while I am using them for group calls, I still like the one-on-one telephone calls. I just push two buttons and the phone dials the number. I could call clients when I am walking around my neighborhood.
I hope you have picked up some takeaways and are managing well and staying safe. We are fine at my house.
Do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.