Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer
Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer Who let this dog out? After a two month hiatus to concentrate on our fall Tax School materials, your erstwhile blogger has returned!…
August 16th, 2021
If you are like me, you’ve been building your business for many years. Possibly even decades. Early on your mantra was likely “the more the merrier.” Any warm body who was willing to meet with us was welcome at our door.
Is it time perhaps to re-evaluate this strategy and begin to eliminate problematic clients?
Think of some of your own taxpayers who might fit one or more of these categories:
I’m continually amazed at this one. I think of the client who complained about not being able to get in to see me for a month, then, during the appointment, whines about how he or she was up half the night putting their info together. And then proceeds to tell me that they still don’t have everything.
The world today appears to be more and more self-centric. What I mean is that people only consider their own needs and issues without looking at the big picture. For the client who starts bothering me mere days after our appointment, I find myself needing to remind them that they are not my only client. I want to give them the best service I can but that takes time.
One of my favorites… The conversation begins with asking if their return is complete. My standard answer is that I’m about 80% through it and should have some numbers by Monday (translation: their packet is on my floor and hasn’t even been opened). The set response is that they have more information to provide so it’s likely good their return wasn’t complete to begin with!
This is a dangerous one. While our due diligence requires us to make a reasonable inquiry, the client who always provides round numbers on a sheet of paper likely requires more investigation on our part. An equivalent danger here is that if or when this client is audited, they will most assuredly throw you under the bus and tell the government you agreed with what they provided.
This builds on the previous scenario. It’s simply amazing to me that clients give the same amount to charities each year, or their mileage is determined based on what it was last year, or the numbers magically appear on my office ceiling.
These taxpayers typically don’t beat you up in person but will do so on a voicemail, text, or e-mail. I have also found they can be very rude to your staff. In one instance, an irate taxpayer demanded to speak to me ASAP and hung up on my receptionist. I called the taxpayer back that evening at 9:30 p.m. when I finished appointments and I explained I had an urgent message. I must admit to experiencing the joy of a rude taxpayer back pedaling on their “urgent” request.
I used to send an annual newsletter to clients. One of the items I would stress is that requests from bankers, planning for next year, or needing copies of returns are nearly impossible to deal with during the filing season. I guess these statements were construed as being intended for someone other than them since the requests have never let up. Why taxpayers only think about their financial lives during tax season remains a mystery to me.
I recall a situation where I bent over backwards for a client who was going through a messy divorce. After the returns were completed, I could feel the awkwardness at our front counter as the taxpayer was there for at least 15 minutes to pick up their packet. At that time, we produced invoices from our tax software, which listed each form or item. When I told the client the bill was correct, I was retorted with a no-win statement which was “I’m not allowed to review the billing?” To that no-win comment, I simply replied “yes.” By the way, our invoices now only read, “for professional services rendered.”
Isn’t it amazing when clients ask you a question then proceed to tell you why your answer is wrong? Or respond by telling you that’s not what they heard from their brother-in-law. I’m at a loss to comment further here.
I’ve been accused of creating monsters by enabling them. I have been guilty of holding my client’s hands and doing everything for them. Like a spoiled child, they now rebel when I tell them they need to do some things for themselves. How am I to know their password? I understand I can send a password reset for our portal, but come on. I have shown clients how they can check in with the IRS as to refund status or download an IRS app to their phone, but they still need me to do it for them.
Unlike “Carnac the Magnificent”, I can’t divine their issue, nor do I want the letter read to me. Send it, scan it, drop it off, but please don’t read to me.
Don’t get me wrong; the largest percentage of our clients are a joy to work with. We enjoy catching up with them. Some bring treats or show the best appreciation available by referring us to their friends and families. However, like anything else, a few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel.
There’s an old saying that you never want to burn bridges, so I believe we can achieve our goal of getting troublemakers out of our practices by pursuing a number of options:
It is always better to approach even a negative circumstance from a positive position. You are suggesting that the client’s needs will be better addressed by some other firm. In some cases, the client you are firing may ask for a referral to another tax professional (your tax pro friend will just love that!).
One last point. If you carry liability insurance (if you don’t, you should), contact the carrier. Many of them have form type letters for “disengagement” you can customize for your specific client situation.
Many people want to work with you. Others return year after year out of familiarity or your level of competence. Or perhaps they return because of your fees. After being in practice for more than 30 years, I can tell you without seeming arrogant that I want to work with clients who want to work with me, appreciate what I do, and are willing to pay me what I’m worth. You should settle for no less. Eliminating the problem clients will make you more efficient and more importantly, make you a happier person.
By Tom O’Saben, EA
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