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Client Collaboration Guidelines for Tax Season

Tim Sines
Posted by Tim Sines on Apr 16, 2024 2:27:46 PM

During the busy tax time, accounting service providers have more to worry about than usual — from maintaining proper payroll management to hitting all relevant filing deadlines and requirements for each of their clients. Client communication can seem like a less critical focus area during this part of the year, but as bookkeepers and accountants, we have to rely on our clients to complete services properly. At some point, streamlined communication with clients will be necessary, so it makes sense to have systems for these exchanges in place before the busy season.  

To avoid any hiccups when your workload increases, you should set ground rules about communication expectations well in advance. If necessary, you can offer reminders in the moment as well, ensuring your clients are prepared to meet your needs during tax time. 

Whether you’re implementing new collaboration guidelines for the first time or sending out reminders so clients are prepared for tax season, below are a few of the specific protocols we suggest using in your firm: 

Establish channel preferences 

Everyone knows a person or two who loves one specific method of communication. Stereotypes hold that older people prefer the traditional phone call, while younger folks prefer texting or similar async messaging platforms. The truth is that you can find fans of all kinds of communication methods in every age group, but the key for your accounting firm is to determine which ones each of your clients prefer.  

This is something to figure out early so you can avoid a difficult scenario during tax season: imagine leaving multiple voicemails with a client's phone number, only to find that they rarely check their messages and handle business using email. Just a few minutes of discussion or some kind of intake form can save you hours of trouble related to communication channels when work gets busy. 

Create a communication cadence  

Once you’ve nailed down the specific channels you’ll use to communicate with clients, the next step is determining the frequency with which both sides engage. Should your clients expect to hear from you every time you reach another milestone with their service, or will you only communicate after a certain number of them? Will you be available at specific “office hours” throughout the week, or do you expect all client communications to occur on a single day?  

These are the kinds of questions you’ll answer when you create a communication cadence with clients. As is the case with most other guidelines we mention, it’s best to set up a cadence well before you actually need to put it in practice on a frequent basis, which often happens during tax time when clients may have more questions or the firm may need more information than usual. 

Make sure dates and deliverable guidelines are provided properly  

We always talk about the common challenges accounting firms face when it comes to the busy season, but in many cases, our clients have just as many obligations – if not more. As leaders of an organization, it can be easy to lose sight of what clients have to deal with.  

Show a little understanding by giving your clients information about key dates, deliverables, and other requirements well in advance. Remember to give them plenty of reminders along the way. Most clients are well-meaning, but they might also be under a lot of pressure or facing a larger-than-usual workload. Try to make client collaboration as easy as possible for them by giving them both project-specific information and general communication protocols as early as possible. Be direct with your language and repeat key dates and requirements frequently so they never get lost under a mountain of other requirements. 

Use a client portal and other relevant technology 

A client portal is a central location where your clients can log in with a unique username and password to upload and access relevant files and other information required by their bookkeeping firm. And while it’s nice to have some sophisticated technology to show clients you are up to date with technology, portals can also provide them with tangible benefits. Instead of having to worry about whether or not an email with a file attachment went through, clients can simply log in to their portals and upload files to the right place. Most portal systems allow you to set privilege levels so that different team members at your client’s organization only have access to the files they need.  

In fact, we suggest taking advantage of technology to streamline client collaboration in as many different ways as possible. Instead of relying on single solution platforms, consider implementing a broader system that handles multiple functionalities in the same application, like an accounting practice management software tool. This will cut down on the amount of time you spend installing, updating, and managing digital accounting tools so you can spend more time reaping the communication benefits they’ll provide for all of your client relationships – no matter how large a workload you’re facing. 

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Topics: Practice Management


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