There are trends when you’re writing about taxes. When Congress is working on tax legislation, everyone one is writing about those bills and changes. Now we’re seeing a lot about last minute tax planning. Next month, we’ll all be writing about picking a tax pro and getting ready to file your taxes. I want to get a jump on that discussion and talk about the expectations we bring to choosing a tax pro.
This morning I was reading the blogs I follow and one mentioned that the Apple iPhone 4S was the biggest disappointment of the year. Boy was I surprised because I have one and think it’s great. The problem is not the phone but the expectations people brought to the phone. For months, “experts” were talking about what might be on the phone and too many people read “might” and thought “will be”. When the real phone didn’t match their “fantasy” phone, people were disappointed.
Most tax pros get new clients through referral. The new client has heard from their friend, co-worker or family member how great the preparer is and decides to give the preparer a shot. They come in with expectations based on what they’ve been told. “She always gets me a big refund.” “He doesn’t charge too much.” “She’s fast.” “He explains everything to me.” “I can call and she’ll answer my question.” It’s great when a client thinks highly enough about your service that they will tell others. But new clients need to remember that everyone’s return is different. And everyone’s standards are different. The preparation fee which is not too much for their friend many be too much for them. How fast a return can be completed will depend on the return, how prepared the client is and what other work the preparer has at that time. I don’t know how many times a client wants to know why a co-worker always gets a big refund and he doesn’t even though everything is the same for both of them.
The problem is expectations. Potential clients need to take what they hear about a tax pro as a place to start the investigation. They need to ask questions of their friends and of the preparer. Find out how the preparer works, what they need from you, how they charge, don’t assume. Don’t assume that every tax pro operates the same way. And the preparer needs to understand that the new client is coming in with a set of expectations. Expectations that the preparer may not be able meet. Expectations they may not want to meet. If it hasn’t happens before, the first few minutes of a tax appointment should be spent with client and preparer creating a new set of expectations. If they can’t, then another preparer may be a better fit. It’s not a waste of time if the taxpayer learns that that preparer can’t prepare their return for what they can pay or is so busy that it’ll take weeks to complete the return. For the preparer, it’s always better to learn a potential client is more concerned about their tax amount than accuracy of the return before the return is prepared.
There is nothing wrong with expectations if they are realistically built on common ground and not some arbitrary ideal. Both tax pros and clients need to understand that it’s their job to understand what is desired and what can be done and create expectations both can work with.