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Six Crazy Things Clients Say during Tax Season
March 31, 2016

By Chris Basom

After a hallway “commiseration” session the other day, one of my team members said, “I can tell it’s late in the season!” Passing by, I asked “How’s that?” and her answer was (embarrassingly) telling. She explained, “Because we’re all a little cranky!”

Where I couldn’t help but twinge just a bit, I got it. By late March, the long days, demanding emotional challenges, and lack of sleep takes a toll. I don’t care how positive and generous you are as a human – TAX SEASON IS HARD!

Pretend it isn’t – doesn’t matter. Wish your way out of it – won’t help. I’m a very positive person, unreasonably optimistic – but by now my temper is short and my patience is at a premium. I’m not proud of it – but I’d be less proud about kidding you – truth is truth, and that is more valuable than image.

So, at this point in the tax season, it would be dishonest to represent that every interaction I have with a client or team member is positive and stress-free. It would be equally dishonest to say that with the right level of “good practice management” I would totally avoid the fatigue and struggle that tax season just IS.

With that – there are some things that clients say to me at this time of the season that are downright laughable. I know they mean well – I get that their comments are because they love me and are trying to “make it better” – but it doesn’t, it just can’t. And the truth is they say them without understanding what I’m (and what you’re) experiencing in early April of tax season.

I want to hit on the six best – and give you what they say, my reaction, their hidden meeting, and the solution to each. I know they say them to you. I want you to know your reaction is valid, I want you to know what they meant, and what you can do about it.

So let’s hit it, (and if you’ve got others, please share). Trust me, we “get it”! We’re right there in the trenches with you…

1)   “I know you’re busy, but…”

What I heard: “Bad timing, but I don’t care – Feed ME!”

What they meant: “I love you and know this is a bad time to burden you, but my need for an answer exceeds my want not to bother you.”

What you can do about it: Simple, it may be simple – so handle it with love. If it’s not simple, then deal with it appropriately – for you. It maybe something that has to wait until the season is over (and you’re not a bad person for explaining that to your client).

Remember that we give away lots of FREE help we never intend to. It’s important to get paid for your knowledge, experience and expertise. So if it’s not simple just say “That’s a great question, and to answer it properly is going to take some time. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury today – and fortunately, it doesn’t need to be handled today. I’d like to make an appointment to discuss this on May 1st, to do it right – and it’s too important to not do it right – we really need a deep dive. Is that ok?”

Get the engagement (and the revenue) that this question deserves. Get the respect you deserve. Have the business you’ve always wanted.

2)   “It’ll all be over soon!” (referring to the hell that is tax season)

What I heard: My clients really don’t understand the plight I’m in. If they “got it” they would know I need more time not less time. I don’t need the end to come sooner. I need it to come later!

What they meant: “I hate to see you struggle like this – I hope it gets better for you soon! But not until you take care of my problem…”

What to do about it: Manage your load more effectively. Be smart about what needs to happen by 4/18/16 (this year only…normal deadline 4/15).

The truth is the 4/15 (normal) deadline drives clients to act – and we know we benefit by that being true. But it’s important to look seriously at your practice and manage your clients.

When your clients come to you with a problem or a question, don’t just immediately react. Take a moment to identify what their real need is and offer them a valuable solution to their problem. Ideally, this solution will also be something you can charge for so you’re not giving away your value for free.

We talk in detail about this in our TaxProU course How to Increase Your Revenue, lessons 3 & 4

The quick answer is better “load” management. The tax season used to end on 3/15 – that was over 60 years ago. Likely it won’t become 5/15 anytime soon. So you have to manage the people you see.

Make sure you have a workflow management system in place and file extensions for chronic late filers in January as soon as your tax software allows. Get it out of the way sooner than later. Teach your clients to prepare for their tax appointments so the process isn’t so difficult. We teach a pile of strategies in our course called Client Obedience Training – take it, you’ll be happier.

3)   “Don’t work too hard!”

What I heard: “As your client, I honestly don’t have a clue about the stress, pressure and deadline you are under.”

What they meant: “Keep it up, for as long as it takes for you to get my stuff done – then take it easy. I sure don’t want anything to happen to you. I’m going to need your help for several more years.”

What to do about it: Work hard, obviously. There’s no way out of this except through it.

And honestly, contrary to popular belief, it’s not possible to work too hard. The challenge is to work hard enough. Hard enough to complete the task at hand. Hard enough to make yourself happy with your effort.

All of that (in my experience) is about knowing what you want – and then aligning your efforts to get there. Know your why, and your work will be a labor of love. Sure it’s hard – nothing worth doing is easy.

So I recommend that you know the purpose of your work – your why. And then take the time beforehand to prepare yourself for the hard work of the season. You don’t run a marathon on Sunday after deciding to the Wednesday before. It takes months of preparation. And so should your tax season.

And while we’re on this – when did working hard become an undesirable thing? Hard work built the Hoover Dam. {You can tell it’s late in the tax season when I go off on a tear about the Hoover Dam!}

4)  “I’m an easy return – I’m one of your easy clients, right? This won’t take you long”

What I heard: “So it won’t cost much, I should get a special deal for being so easy.”

What they meant: “Hey I know I’ve seen some of the people who come here and I’m not nearly the nightmare that they must be. You’re smart – you’ve got my stuff nailed. Besides, you like me, right?”

What to do about it: Just say it outright “You know, that’s what I like about you, your confidence in me is motivating!”

Bottom line, your clients want you to like them and not see them as a burden. They want to be one of your favorites. It may sound like they’re downplaying the expertise needed to do their work – and maybe angling for a “deal” from you. But what they’re really doing is trying to convince you that this engagement (working with them) is a good thing for you and you should keep it up. They want to make sure they stay on your roster.

If they truly are “easy” that’s one thing – but normally a person who says some version of this isn’t all that simple.  You may need to gently remind them that those three rentals they co-own - in different percentages - in two other states - aren’t all that “easy”. They get it – and they don’t want to lose you. Accept the compliment and reassure them that you like them too.

5)  "That’s why you make the big bucks!”

What I heard: “I’m paying you a pretty penny to fix it – so get to it!” and/or “You are making a boatload of cash, and you only have to work three months a year.”

What they meant: “You’ve got a tough job. I’m glad you’re there to do it for me. I’m probably not paying you enough. But I hope that you’ll keep doing it long enough to get my stuff done.”

What to do about it: Take the compliment.  

Important people “make the big bucks!” So this is either an acknowledgment that you are important or it’s recognition that you are more important than your pay would indicate. Either way, it’s an identifying statement of your value. Hear that.

The truth of the matter is you are probably being underpaid for the benefits you provide your clients. Almost every one of us is. While there are lots of reasons for this – there is only one solution. Increase your fees. Like knowing your why, aligning your fees with your value is a critical internal process that your firm (you) needs to execute.

Successfully implemented, you can get so much more out of your business when you are properly priced.

6)  “Have a nice weekend!”

 What I heard: “Get some rest while you’re not working on Saturday until 8:00 PM and all day Sunday.” (Are you kidding me?)

What they meant: “I hope you get some rest and can spend some time outside of this dungeon of an office over the weekend!”

What to do about it: Smile and say “you too!”

You want the truth Mr. and Mrs. Client? You can’t handle the truth!

Just remember your clients like you. They wouldn’t wish this (tax season) on people they don’t like – and they like you. They want to believe that their demands are not going to contribute to your stress. They want to believe that you’ll take months off after April 15th to make up for this “busy” time. (And whoever coined “busy season” should be smacked – “busy”, really? I know guys with cots set up in a spare office – “busy”?) They need to believe these things.

You should smile, say “you too!” and genuinely appreciate your clients good wishes. They like you. And you like them too.

Then build the business you want. Sure – I believe in hard work (see “Hoover Dam” above). But not work that will kill you (don’t look up those statistics). Take this “post” season to envision the tax and accounting practice of your dreams and then go about building it.

Make the adjustments so that next tax filing season you can work at a pace that is sustainable, driven by a “why” that is of your choosing, to create an outcome that is rewarding.

What does all of this lead us to?

Three big conclusions:

A. Your clients really don’t know what you do, and what doing it requires.

B. Your clients want you to be successful.

C. Your clients like you, value what you do for them, and want you to like them.

A – How could they? Unless you’ve survived a tax season, it’s impossible to know what doing so means. And that’s OK – “tax season” is a legend well shared, and often referred to in American folklore. Allow them to participate more in a good result for themselves – implement systems, processes, and tools that allow you to help them more effectively.

Most importantly, be on-purpose about educating them on your process and why the process you’ve created is valuable to them. The goal here isn’t to get them to understand your struggle or empathize with you about how hard your job is – the goal is to clarify for them the value you bring in the relationship and why you’re worth every penny you charge.

B – They want to work with someone who is GOOD at this. Someone who is successful and sought after by others. That validates their choice of you as “their” tax pro, and elevates them. They are genuinely interested in your success – and will contribute to it if you ask, and then let them. Make sure you have a referral marketing system in place (learn more about how to do that here) and don’t be afraid to leverage your best clients to be advocates for your firm.

C – Your clients like and value you. Because they do they want you to like them back. The simple rule of reciprocity means as you do for them they will do for you. But not if they don’t know how. Give them the steps for how they can help you in practical ways during the season. Because your success is aligned with theirs, your “busy season” relationship with your clients should be supportive, not adversarial. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that during the chaos. 

Get to work building the business you always wanted. Listen to what your clients are saying – and really understand what they mean.

About Chris Basom

Chris is an avid soccer fan, sailor, and certified scuba diver. When he's not helping tax pros with practice management, he's also the managing partner of a tax firm in Orange County CA. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn.