‘Managed dissatisfaction’ during tax season


Remember Blockbuster Video? It wasn’t so long ago that Blockbuster dominated the video rental space with 9,000 stores worldwide and close to $6 billion in revenue. Remember the annoying late fees Blockbuster kept charging customers pre-Netflix/Amazon? Those late fees were actually part of Blockbuster’s business model. They assumed “that’s just the way it is in the video rental business” and customers couldn’t do anything about them. Blockbuster even had a name for that hubris: “Managed Dissatisfaction.”

How’d that work out for Blockbuster?

I know it’s been a tough tax season. But if you think clients don’t notice when you ignore their messages or send them terse responses days after they’ve reached out to you, think again.
Managed dissatisfaction has long been the M.O. at most CPA firms during busy season. “We’re really busy and that’s just the way it is,” you may be thinking. But in this increasingly “frictionless” convenience economy, your rivals are getting better and better at providing great client service and making themselves available when clients want to talk.

Profiting from customer/client dissatisfaction is incredibly difficult to do now, because customers and clients are much more mobile than they used to be. When clients fire their CPAs, it’s not usually because of a mistake or a bad tax outcome. Clients leave because they didn’t feel they were listened to and didn’t get a call back when they really needed advice.
For most clients, a tax return is just a vague document with a bunch of boxes and numbers on it. They don’t know what it means. They don’t even know if you did a good job filling it out.

Clients don’t need to be more patient; it’s your job to build sufficient capacity

During busy season, don’t assume clients will “just get over it” when you take too long to respond to them. That’s not only disrespectful, but you’re missing out on a great opportunity to have meaningful conversations with clients. This is when they have the most questions. It’s your job to figure out how your firm can build sufficient capacity during your busiest times of year, so you can have more meaningful conversation with good clients. They want to talk to you right now and be done with it; they don’t want to talk taxes in July and August when they’re on vacation.

Everyone knows it’s been an extremely difficult busy season for tax preparers — but what about for taxpayers? Many practitioners complain to me about all the annoying questions they get from clients. But that’s what people pay you for. When it comes to tax rules, regs and rates, clients don’t know what they don’t know — nor do they care. They just want someone they can talk to about a stressful financial matter (paying taxes). They just want reassurance that they can reach someone who’ll pick up the phone when they have a question or concern.

Now that you’re familiar with the dangers of managed dissatisfaction, you’ll start to notice how many other businesses you work with succumb to it. Airlines, cable companies, gyms, health care providers and car rental companies are notorious for annoying customers like you — and trying to profit from it. How does that make you feel when their attitude seems to be: “We know you don’t like it. What are you going to do about it?”

Well it’s only a matter of time before they go the way of Blockbuster. Don’t let that happen to your firm.

You’re a highly trained professional. Your firm is operating at a high level of proactive client service in which you’re no longer saying, “That’s just the way it has always been.” Think about what’s possible. That’s what your clients need right now.

Avoiding managed dissatisfaction

1. Set standards inside your firm for returning client communication.Make sure everyone at your firm, regardless of job title, adheres to these rules. As mentioned in my last article,The future is asynchronous, the policy at our firm is: “Respond by noon for morning messages; respond by end of day for afternoon messages.” No one ever leaves the office with an open email from a client.

Very important: You don’t have to have the answer right away; you just need to reassure clients that you received their message, that you’re working on the answer, and then you tell them approximately when you will be getting back to them.

2. Call your top-tier clients personally.Block out two hours on your calendar and call your top clients. Even if you have to leave a voicemail, let them know: “Hey, I know tax season has been a little crazy this year. I just want to know I’ve been thinking about you. I’m here for you. We’re working on your return.” Then provide a very brief update. If a client answers the phone directly, keep it light. Just talk about family, travel or their favorite hobbies. Trust me, it will be the most valuable two hours you spend all year. My article about The 64/4 rule has more about making the most of this time.

Get out of the rut. Set standards for returning client calls and emails promptly and call your best clients personally to see how they’re doing. Doing these two simple things will keep you from succumbing to managed dissatisfaction and will open the door to tons of referrals when tax season is mercifully over.

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