Art of Accounting: How to make tax season smoother this year
Tax season is a busy time and there is a temptation to take a shortcut on procedures, skip some extra training or sidestep an extra effort to be in touch with a client. Succumbing to these and other temptations is a shortsighted mistake that should be avoided.
Tax season can be a great opportunity or a disaster. It is the owner or partners who create the atmosphere. It is also important to realize that how well staff are trained, office organized, work is preplanned and scheduled, and providing a pleasant client experience can make or kill tax season. Here are a few tips I have found helpful.
Training needs to done continuously and immediately as the need arises. The velocity of work during tax season yields quick dividends from the investment made in training. I am not referring to extensive classroom training—that should have been done already. I refer to explaining every error someone makes and how they can avoid errors going forward. These explanations should not take more than a few minutes. If the mistakes are repeated a second time, explain it again. A third time, and either you are not doing it clearly or you have a dud who needs to be let go! Also tell staff members to go back over work they have already handed in to make sure the error doesn’t repeat itself.
Office organization is essential. Processes should flow smoothly. The admin people should have coordinated procedures that are communicated to the accounting staff so they know who to go to. Supplies should be adequate and easily accessible. Post office and express courier schedules should be obtained to maximize delivery to the clients. An admin person should always be available during the hours the tax preparers are working in the office, and bottlenecks should be monitored so turnaround time isn’t increased. Neat and uncluttered offices are a must. Where workflow software is used, it must be adhered to by everyone.
Preplanning and scheduling work should include assigning returns to the proper experience level. Coordinate difficult returns with the preparer and reviewer so no lags will result that could delay the completion of a return. Where necessary, staff should be matched with the client. Night and weekend work hours and requirements should be set before tax season gets very busy. Partners should be cognizant of the staff’s needs and respond to their questions and requests. They not create a bottleneck for staff and hamper them from completing the returns they are working on.
Clients are the reason we are in business. Everyone should work toward creating a pleasant client experience. The tax returns are important deliverables and many clients agonize over them before they sign off on them. The partners and staff need to treat what they are doing with that same importance. Phone calls and emails should be responded to quickly. Notes clients send with their tax information that do not relate to the return should be answered expeditiously by a partner or manager. The culture should be to do the best job possible for the client.
Tax season needs buy-in by everyone, particularly the owner or partners. The office atmosphere should be professional, unharried and organized with a cooperative spirit. Shortcuts in procedures should not be permitted and on-the-job training should be emphasized.
Tax season is now. You should make the best of it and get every benefit out of it that you can. There are many other advantages of tax season and ways to prepare. The above presents a few tips that can help you have a smoother tax season. Go for it! Enjoy!
Click here to view my tax season checklists
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. 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) 964-9329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.