As tax professionals, we focus on numbers, tax laws and analysis. We don’t often consider the emotions our clients experience and the impact that brings to our work.
COVID times have presented challenges for everyone that we experience in unique ways. The first lockdowns, closures and restrictions started last year, during the height of tax season. We were faced with a pandemic that forced rapid change. Many of us cancelled in-person meetings, started exchanging documents electronically and found creative ways to physically distance while performing our jobs. Some of us were lucky to have tech-savvy clients for whom these changes were not cumbersome. Other clients had no experience working virtually and the struggle was real.
One of the best value-added services we can bring to this tax season is supportive empathetic guidance. We can take a short-term therapeutic approach to working with clients. This isn’t to say we must coddle our clients or play therapist. We are not trained in the intricacies of therapy and mental health. But we can lead by example, offer suggestions, model calm confidence and hope for the future.
Remember the client’s perspective
Our clients, and humans everywhere, have been stressed to the limit. We fight to maintain or find sources of income and simply function on a basic level, on top of caring for family and friends, worrying about staying healthy, figuring out ways to live gratifying and enriching lives, all in ways modified to ensure safety.
We become laser focused on how we function professionally. We can become so deep in number crunching that we forget the benefits of working with clients in a therapeutic way. Being empathetic, sensitive and assuaging guilt can lift burdens experienced around taxes and finances.
Tax preparation is challenging and difficult for most clients. Others breeze through the process with ease. No matter which type of client you are working with, remind them they are not alone. In a global pandemic we must support and encourage each other. Use your professionalism and experience to help clients lighten their load.
Be a friendly supportive person for clients to rely on, guiding them through the complexities of ever-changing tax code and numerous due dates. Reiterate that their focus should be on keeping healthy, reducing stress and ensuring their subsistence.
Many clients are experiencing isolation, depression and despair. Help them maintain perspective and forward focus. It does no good to beat ourselves up over past shortcomings — 2020 was an anomaly we are unlikely to experience again in our lifetimes. Remembering this too shall pass and embracing the nature of impermanence alleviates daily burden.
While it will take a while to get back to a new sense of normal, we can use this year to position our clients, our businesses and ourselves for seasons of growth and renewal.
How we can be impactful and helpful
Assure your clients nothing is more important than their health. Without wellness, we cannot earn, care for our loved ones and support other businesses.
The impact of COVID times on our lives can be paralyzing. Avoid additional stressors and remember that simple tasks can be overwhelming. The world is still progressing at reduced capacity as the IRS and other taxing authorities are underfunded and understaffed. The saying “patience is a virtue” has never been truer.
Accounting and consulting services are in demand. Remind clients of the services you offer beyond tax preparation. Maintaining books, organizing receipts and notes, and tracking income can fall to the bottom of our clients’ priority lists. Focusing on healthy record-keeping habits can give clients a sense of control in chaotic times, even if they outsource the task.
Stay networked with other professionals and support their businesses. If clients are overwhelmed and we don’t offer services that would provide relief, refer them to our colleagues.
Remain informed. Our clients rely on us to monitor changes they may not have the bandwidth to keep up with. Read professional tax journals and focus on continuing education to remain aware of changes. Visit the IRS and state websites for the latest updates and news, or join an industry association for information on guidance, education and updates.
Be mindful of deadlines, extensions and penalty abatements. The IRS extended the April 15, 2021, filing deadline by one month to May 17, 2021.
Keep connected to your clients without inundating them. Consider communicating with clients via newsletters, emails and even social media sites. Find a platform that is simple for you, one you gravitate towards and one your clients are receptive to. Being informed and knowledgeable reduces their stress. Here are a few more tips that will help them cope:
- Offer weekly tips. For example, if organizing their tax data is becoming burdensome, suggest working in small manageable sessions. The use of a timer or short playlists of favorite music are valuable aids to frame time.
- Provide words of encouragement. Remind long-time clients how far they have come in your time together.
- Remind clients to utilize tools like apps and software to simplify organization. Mint.com, PocketGuard.com and Expensify.com are user-friendly ways to maintain your finances on your phone, laptop or tablet. Some of the best solutions are simple and readily accessible.
- Suggest clients develop a financial routine. One way of accomplishing this is Money Mondays. A day (and more specifically a time slot) where your clients reconcile their books, file receipts or simply open and sort their mail and any other electronic financial records.
- Communicate updates on tax deadlines and changes. Time flies when our minds are preoccupied. Gentle reminders can help keep clients on track.
Hope for brighter days ahead
The economy is fragile, and we cannot afford to lose clients to self-preparation methods of filing their taxes. During COVID times we need to take extra steps to ensure our livelihood. A therapeutic approach during these unprecedented times will elevate our practices to a new level. While we are not certified therapists, acknowledging the emotional state of our clients and the environment in which they operate is crucial. Empowered and supported clients are likely to take our suggestions to heart.
Boosting our clients’ confidence and ushering them gently is integral. Clients will remember how you helped them through difficult times. They are more likely to mention your business to friends when the topic of taxes comes up, organically driving more clients to us in the future. When we focus on connecting—human to human—in arduous times, we all become more successful.