A couple of weeks ago I was talking with some colleagues about being forced to watch videos to learn features available in new software and just how much I didn’t like that. The videos are slow. I can read faster than that and I comprehend better as well. Usually, I’m going to want to read about something and then maybe watch the video to see how it’s actually done. That’s not how I roll 100% of the time, but in general I’m a reader not a watcher.
I’m considering this in light of recent client pushback concerning my (admittedly lengthy) “help” e-mails. I’m writing volumes of free help information that targets specific issues my clients are having and distributing it to clients along with links to video help and the knowledge base provided by the software. My business is doing tax returns, not doing tech support on my client management software. That said, I want to help when different clients are all having the same or similar problems. So, I write. Why don’t I do video? Because the software has done that. Also because some people, like me, prefer written to video help. So, I’m doing my best to do both what works for the office and what allows me to “meet clients where they are” so to speak.
While the office has always been able to manage contact free service in one form or another (mail, portal, etc.) after last year I decided that we needed to automate some of the more routine administrative aspects of the return preparation process as well as to increase our “one to many” communication. The change was necessary in order to accommodate client volume while still maintaining a degree of personal service and some work life balance for the office staff (me and Cat). We want to be able to focus on tax returns and complex issues, not booking appointments or answering e-mails about the secure portal. Pushback on these changes has included clients leaving and me telling clients that we can no longer meet their expectations and to find a new preparer. Yes. I have fired clients who, instead of asking for help with a specific problem, simply wanted to complain about not liking the changes I am making—to my business.
I get it. Change is hard. No one likes it. Me included. I’m in my 50s and it’s not getting any easier for me to adapt either. But sometimes it’s adapt or die. Last year it became adapt or die for this office. The changes I’m implementing, while causing some short-term pain, will be both beneficial and necessary for the long-term future of my business. So, while it is unfortunate that some clients have chosen to leave or I have chosen to curate them from my client list, I still hope that they find another preparer who meets their needs. Specifically I hope that
- The new #taxpro pays attention to office and internet security
- The new practitioner’s business model meets both their price point and their income needs
- If the new practitioner’s business model is built on working 60-80 hour weeks during tax season (especially during this tax season which has been compressed by an additional two weeks and hundreds of pages of new tax law) that they are able to prepare the return accurately. The cognitive decline that comes from a lack of sleep is a real thing. Tired #taxpros make more mistakes.
- If the new practitioner’s business model is built on doing a high volume of returns at a low price that they spend enough time with you and on your return to prepare it accurately the first time. And if they don’t that they are around in the off season to help you with any resulting IRS or state notices.
Why do I hope this? Because high-volume, low- to mid-price business models are getting increasingly harder to sustain without automation. The Covid-19 related legislation alone is adding 20-30 minutes to each tax return I prepare just to make sure I’m getting clients all the benefits for which they may be eligible and the correct amount of stimulus money. I read about one #taxpro who says he spends his summer amending returns for free because of all the mistakes he makes during season. He works six or seven days a week and ten to fourteen hour workdays. No wonder he’s making mistakes. Then there’s the general cognitive decline that comes with age. I do not have the memory I had when I was 30. Or even 40. I’ve added automations as “brain extenders” because I’m not willing to run the risks that come with cognitive decline when those risks affect your tax returns.
Maybe you don’t care. Maybe face-to-face completely unautomated service is so important to you that you go out and find a relatively young “old school” preparer. Maybe you won’t outlive them. Maybe they won’t also decide that their business model is unsustainable and decide to make changes. Maybe the demands of the job the way they are currently doing it won’t cause them to make errors. Or maybe, just maybe, it won’t be this year and it won’t be your return.