Remember the lazy days of summer? The office was quiet and an entire day might go by without a single request from a client. Surprise – it’s tax season and those days are gone. Soon, you’ll be inundated with clients calling, messaging and emailing you, wondering when they are going to get their tax refund.
Of course, you have options to deal with your clients. While you could take a long vacation, a better idea is to figure out how to effectively handle client communication. In this article, we will look at communication technologies, and discuss how you can use them to improve your client interactions and overall efficiency.
I have a mailbox at our local post office and routinely visit it to pick up our mail, but I wonder what would happen if I changed my process. What if I simply took out the new envelopes, looked at them and returned them back into my mailbox? Would the postmaster have anything to say when my mailbox reached a stash of unopened envelopes? This may sound strange, but it describes the process that many of us use when trying to deal with email.
Our inboxes are full of hundreds, or possibly thousands, of unanswered emails and tasks that need to be completed, and we’re forced to scroll through an endless list, trying to determine if we missed any client requests or deadlines. One alternative, of course, is to routinely empty your inbox – and that’s not as crazy as it sounds. All you need is a methodology that helps you decide if you need to act on each email, file it for future reference or delete it.
I believe it is very important to move email requests from your inbox to a tool that is better suited to managing tasks. I use the cloud-based Todo app that allows me to manage my tasks anywhere and on any device. It allows me to efficiently categorize and prioritize tasks in ways that are just not possible within my inbox.
There is no doubt that the process of emptying your inbox takes time. However, you will gain back all the time spent scrolling through the thousands of messages in your inbox. Using a task application also relieves us of the angst we get every time we realize we missed another request from a client!
There are numerous to-do apps available in the market today; the key is to find the one that best suits your task management methodology.
Imagine your best client sends you their tax documents in early February. You’re thrilled because you can deliver the return earlier than ever before … until you realize they forgot to include their charitable contributions. No problem; you can send them an email and are convinced they’ll get right back to you. Do you know how this story ends?
The request ends up in your sent items list and the client’s overflowing inbox. They miss the email and you forget about it until early April. You send a second request and the client is left wondering why it has taken you so long to prepare their return.
It’s simple to see that our sent items list is not an efficient place to track communications with our clients. Intuit® Link is a great tool for solving this problem. Link works with ProConnect™ Tax Online (PTO), Lacerte® and ProSeries®.
The cloud-based Link portal can be used to send questions to, and request documents from, your tax clients. They will like the convenience of being able to answer questions and upload documents from any device. The status of Link data requests appears in the PTO dashboard, reducing the possibility that a request will be forgotten.
Other Communication Technologies
Do you remember life before email? Some of us can. Back then, our client communications were limited to phone calls, snail mail and faxes. This made it very simple to manage our to-do lists. We didn’t even need a cloud app or a mobile device!
Today, there seems to be an endless supply of technologies available to communicate with our clients. My suggestion is to embrace them all:
- Messaging Apps – Tools, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, provide an alternative to text messaging. They are especially popular with people who travel internationally and want to avoid the fees associated with text messaging. Skype or Google Hangouts have similar capabilities and include video conferencing features.
- Team Collaboration – These sort of apps are very popular to help track projects and tasks. Leading apps include Teamwork and Slack. Microsoft and Facebook recently joined the party by launching Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace.
- Social Media – We can’t forget about one of my favorites – social media. It is not uncommon for accountants to be friends with their clients on Facebook, connected to them on LinkedIn and following them on Twitter. This is a great way to keep up with what’s happening. It also allows them one more way to get in touch with you. It’s also important to monitor your social sites and respond to any client that chooses to use social media to contact you.
The number of ways our clients can reach us is simply overwhelming, and I don’t see us ever returning to the days where telephones, snail mail and faxes are our only choices. The key to managing the constant onslaught of new messages is to develop a system that helps capture requests from every app. A task management system can help you clarify your responsibilities and prioritize the work you need to do to respond to each client’s request.
An organized process, combined with the right technology, will help you provide timely responses that will lead to happy clients! It may even set you apart from your competitor, who is still stuck scrolling through their inbox and sent items list.
Editor’s note: Find out more about the Intuit Link portal in the article, “Client Data Collection in Five Easy Steps.”