Chill out: How to deal with client stress during tax season

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As an accountant, you know there’s no way around it: Stress levels ratchet up during tax season for you and your clients. After all, it’s probably safe to assume that a significant proportion of your client base is professionals who populate the C-suite, with all the responsibilities — and stress — that comes with it.

So what’s the best way to handle all that stress while staying professional and productive? It starts by effectively managing tightly wound clients so both parties get what they need during teeth-grinding times.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that can cause and exacerbate client stress:

The time bomb

The biggest single source of stress for white collar professionals is time pressure. There is never enough. Most business professionals face deadlines of some kind every day. It’s often said that no one ever turned down more time or money. And for some professionals, it’s probably easier to get more money than it is to get more time.

As a professional services provider, it’s important to recognize that your clients’ time is just as limited and valuable as yours. It always seems that you never have enough time to accomplish everything you need to do. The same applies to your clients. Take every opportunity to show them you respect their time — keep communications brief, to the point, and meaningful.

When you do request some of their time, let them know you’ll be as brief as possible and there’s a benefit in return for their time. Clients are more willing to share their valuable time with you if they know they’ll benefit from it. Be clear on the pay-off.

For example, instead of saying, “I need those state and federal tax documents as soon as possible,” rephrase it: “I just wanted to give you a quick call to let you know that as soon as you can get me those state and federal tax documents, we can finish your returns and get them filed for you.” You’re providing a tangible reward in return for them spending some of their precious time on you.

Add more value, not more time

It’s always a good idea to sweeten the deal whenever possible. So when you need to take up some of your clients’ time, think about throwing in something of added value — a piece of relevant research, a helpful executive guide, or a possible solution to a problem you know has been plaguing them. If you condition them to expect a positive, helpful call, text or email, they’ll respond quicker and with better results.

Pleasant persistence pays off

There is a fine line between nagging and what I call “pleasant persistence.” The former simply serves to irritate and alienate clients, but the latter can be a powerful tool for good.

Pleasant persistence is a strategy that involves regular communications with challenging clients until they cooperate and provide whatever is requested of them. The key, however, is being both persistent and pleasant — always explain what it is you want and why, and the value of cooperating. Don’t get flustered if a stressed-out client doesn’t initially respond — just recognize the stress factor and continue being pleasant and persistent. It will pay off.

Reinforce the relationship

Even the very best relationships with clients can have rocky patches. There will always be minor disagreements and periodic unpleasantness. The stress of tax time will only add to that, so it’s important to have coping skills that will help you and your clients.

That means reducing your own stress as much as possible to avoid having it trigger an unhealthy response to some client-induced incident. Start by being as organized as possible in your communications and projects. Stay on top of things to avoid last-minute requests and added stress. Always be honest and upfront — if you make a mistake or miss something, say so. Everyone appreciates honesty and most people will make an effort to help correct mistakes and mishaps.

Above all else, stay calm. If a stressed client tees off on you, take a deep breath before responding. Reread that email or text. Hang up before you finish dialing. Take a moment to think things through. You’ll not only reduce your own anxiety and stress, you’ll reduce your client’s as well.

Remember, if you value the relationship, your clients will too. And that’s good for business— yours and theirs.

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Tax season Client relations Client communications Tax practice