By: Mike Giardina, EVP of Product, OfficeTools
Even though it’s been a while since I had to deal specifically with tax season and the heavy workload, one never forgets the stress, hard work, and sometimes exasperation that comes with this unique time of year. For this article I decided to enlist the help of a few veteran tax professionals and users of OfficeTools practice management software, and I chose to interview them while they are in the grind of tax season to gain some real insight on how they solve problems.
During the interviews, I discovered some underlying themes were discovered. Firms were dealing with automations, staffing, workflow, client expectations and extensions. Hearing from each professional was an eye-opening experience that I hope you will find encouraging and useful.
Bring on automation! Firms who made changes for this tax season saw great benefits by automating a variety of tasks. As owners and professionals, we sometimes forget what our administration team goes through during tax season. Implementing new automations can create great team culture and relieve the heightened stress this time of year generates.
“What is it that we are doing manually that we could be doing automated?” says Mike Gordon CPA, who runs a firm of nine in Coos Bay Oregon. “Each year I ask our team to come up with things they want automated. One of the things we decided to automate was our missing information email process. By using OfficeTools built-in automation this saved our front office a ton of calls and cleared up confusion internally and externally!”
Sandra G. Johnson CPA, EA, CFE who runs a firm of seven in Bellmore New York states, “This year we decided to have our clients book their own appointments online with the OfficeTools portal. My team loved not having to manage hundreds of appointments over the phone.” When asked what will the team do with all their free time, Sandra replied, “We trained the admin team at other positions and tasks like basic bookkeeping and they are thrilled with it.”
“This year we setup OfficeTools eSignatures for our e-file forms and the team loved it!” states Jeff Taraboulos CPA, CFE, CFF, PFS, managing partner for KSDT and Company who have 120 members, based in Miami Florida.
Staffing remains one of the most talked about issues in the CPA profession. Having enough qualified professionals is nearly impossible with the shortage in the profession. With the economy on track, firms are experiencing heavy workloads and not enough team to support the increase. New tax laws are creating a large volume of new inquiries which need to be addressed. What are firms doing during the busiest times to overcome these problems?
Jeff I spoke with Jeff Taraboulos CPA who experienced significant challenges this tax season. “We experienced a variety of unique things that have made this one of the worst tax seasons we have had. We acquired two firms in December which created integration and workload challenges during tax season and along with the natural disaster of the hurricane which moved last year’s filing deadline to January, our workload this year was the heaviest I have experienced. Then you add in the Tax law changes…wow, what a year.”
When asked what they did you do under these circumstances? Taraboulos Jeff replied, “My team and I had to roll up our sleeves. This was the most tax returns I have done in a while and I am the managing partner. We were very fortunate that last year we started outsourcing to the Philippines.”
Mike Gordon CPA states, “Getting good people and treating them right, are the most important things you can do. You should have more people than you need, this will allow you to enlarge your tent! If you have too much work you are going to cause team stress.”
Without well-defined workflow the tax season can become unmanageable. The slightest difficulty becomes a major inconvenience and creates detrimental outcomes. Whether its tax return automation, client interactions or simply administrative duties, good workflow streamlines all the firm’s efforts, allowing team accountability, greater client services and less stress.
“Using OfficeTools for every step was difficult at first. If they don’t use the system correctly I address it directly with the team member so they don’t do it again. If they continue, the whole office suffers and then we are forced to make big staffing changes. Sometimes right during tax season,.” said Sandra Johnson., CPA.
Mike Gordon Gordon, CPA said, “We have not experienced any workflow struggles due to having OfficeTools setup so well. However, we still annually review our workflow before each tax season. The staff will use it ten times more than me so ask the staff if you want to get this right!”
After acquiring more several smaller firms, Jeff Taraboulos explains, “The smaller firms really struggled with changing workflow tools and procedures. This created a workflow bottleneck. Unfortunately, we will have to address this after the tax season with more training.”
When it comes to good client management, Mike Gordon suggests, “Eliminating bad client experiences can be accomplished by touches. This year I wrote a letter during tax season to every 1040 client explaining that we are doing more with their return, addressing tax law changes and possible extensions. I received 30 phone calls from this letter. Those become touches, opportunities that create great clients. Another thing I do is return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. Clients expect this.”
“This year we added a Customer Service Coordinator because of the heavier than usual workload. This team member will proactively contact customers, manage complaints and track progress on client work. It’s a big job, but necessary with our heavier volume of work,.” said Jeff Taraboulos, CPA.
For most taxpayers being put but on extension is not comfortable. If your tax professional files an extension you usually want a good reason why. This year more extensions will be filed due to the new tax laws, improved economy, lack of staffing and even natural disasters. Dealing with extensions and the effect on clients is something firms don’t take lightly.
Mike Gordon offers this solution, “Returns are done in the order they come in. However, we can bump it up if they have a good reason.” When asked, how they do you identify those clients that are able to file an extension,? Gordon Mike responded, “We have an extension checklist we send out in January that helps us rate each client’s willingness to go on extension. This is keyed in to OfficeTools. This allows you to shuffle the deck and file those that need to be, and then file extensions for those who are okay with it.”
Jeff Taraboulos offers this conclusion, “With the year we are having we will extend more than usual. This will be a big surprise to clients!”
Whether you had to deal with client, staff or workflow issues this tax season there are solutions to every problem. Follow this season up with new implementations, added technologies and innovative procedures before next year, and be sure to include your team in the process. Next tax season can be the best one ever with the right systems and a team effort.