Little acts, big payoff: Making the most of tax season
For most accountants, tax season is pay season -- the most important time of the year. But tax season offers even bigger opportunities that most accountants fail to capitalize on. With a little forward thinking, you can lay the foundation during tax season to make your practice stronger and more rewarding throughout the entire year.
Making the most of tax season means taking advantage of two major opportunities that you don’t get throughout the year:
- A chance to impress most, if not all, of your clients with your exceptional, personalized service.
- A face-to-face meeting with many of your clients.
Both of these opportunities give you your best chance to generate additional client referrals.
Accountants know well that providing great client service is the best form of marketing, so delighting your clients during tax season is one of the most important things you can do for your practice. But that alone is not enough. Most accountants don’t get full mileage from the excellent service they offer, because they don’t take the next step — having their clients acknowledge it. The face-to-face meeting is a great way to ensure that this happens.
While accurate tax preparation is a requirement for excellent service, it’s certainly not the whole story. Your clients’ perception of your service is the collective impression of all core and peripheral experiences that they have with your firm during the entire tax planning and preparation process. Since paying taxes is a painful act, it’s essential to make your client’s interaction with your firm as pleasing as possible. That’s what generates referrals.
Simple, practice-building tax season tips
- Make gathering tax data easier for your clients. No one option is ideal for all of your clients. Be flexible and give your clients the different options they need — from something as simple as putting all similar documents together with paper clips or in different envelopes, to paper-based tax season organizers, to something more high-octane such as online organizers that can be completed year-round. Indeed, the online organizer option is the best option for both your firm and most of your clients. Make your clients aware of it and how it helps them.
- Make sure to remind clients about their appointments with phone calls, postcards and emails. And make sure that each postcard and email includes your website (and perhaps also a picture of your website on postcards).
- Keep the physical appearance of your office neat and organized. And make sure your reception area is upbeat and lively — showing that you are both under control and in demand. Make sure your receptionist is upbeat and accommodating. However hard you might work, having the client wait is often unavoidable, so keep some light reading materials — humor and photographs of nature, sports and recreation — that will help keep the client engaged during the wait. A pleasant area that displays engaging content can make time pass faster.
- Add a planning angle. Chances are you’re already doing it, but no matter what fees you charge, make a tax planning observation or recommendation that makes the client feel that you’re not just preparing tax returns--you are offering them a useful, value-added service.
- Offer something that goes beyond your clients’ expectations. This might be a convenience, service or anything else. It can be high-tech, such as giving them the convenience of 24x7 secure access to their tax returns on your website, or as simple as presenting their tax return copies in a nice presentation folder.
- Take full advantage of the opportunity the face-to-face meeting presents. Have clients acknowledge how they like your service. After you have discussed their tax returns, make sure to ask them how they liked your service and watch their body language. That will tell you a lot. If they liked your service, an acknowledgement of this will reinforce the feeling. Now is the perfect time to ask for a referral. Of course, if they are not truly pleased with your service, knowing that is very valuable as well. If you can make the customer feel better by empathizing and taking appropriate action, you can turn him into big proponent of your service.
Since word-of-mouth is the lifeline of most successful firms, you want to employ every tactic possible to encourage clients to send more referrals to you.
- Place a tasteful sign in your office that shows you appreciate getting referrals. One such sign says: “The best compliment you can give us is by referring our services to your peers and friends.”
- Business cards are an inexpensive advertisement. Leave them in the waiting area for clients to pick up. Give each client three extra cards every time you see them, requesting that they be handed out to friends, customers or even tacked to break room message boards.
- Consider offering incentives you feel comfortable with in exchange for referrals.
Now that you’re working hard to market yourself in good old-fashioned ways, you would be remiss if you ignored the online marketing resources available to your practice.
At the most basic level, this includes:
- Updating your website;
- Contacting clients and potential clients via email campaigns;
- Improving your search engine rankings; and,
- Being doubly sure that you are well represented on web-based search engines and online directories.
Tax season is your best season; make the most of it!