Interacting with clients outside the busy tax season

July 31, 2019

By Sarah Ovaska-Few at Journal of Accountancy on July 29, 2019

Accountants spend a lot of time communicating with clients during busy seasons, and outside those active times, picking up the phone and calling clients again may be the last thing they have in mind.

But staying in touch is exactly what needs to happen, CPAs at several successful practices say.

"The key is to reach out and craft that personal approach that clients want," said Sarah Schiltz, CPA, a partner at MarksNelson in Kansas City, Mo.

She and other MarksNelson CPAs meet with clients all year long to get feedback on clients' needs, plan for next year's tax season, and provide other advisory services. Schiltz, who mainly works with developers and others in the real estate world, talks to her clients throughout the year to see how she can assist them in strategic tax planning or thinking through tax implications for big deals.

All that communication pays off, she said. It makes for a smoother tax year the next time around, with chances to iron out any issues early on. She also has the time, unlike in the busy tax season, to sit down and talk in detail about clients' long-term plans.

Here are some ways to stay in contact with clients year-round:

Ask for feedback. Schiltz and other MarksNelson accountants routinely seek feedback from clients after the tax season, often by meeting with them in person. It's a chance to tweak internal processes and arrange for more tax planning sessions in the coming year if clients think they weren't fully prepared for their final tax liabilities. 

It's important to do that early on, before people have moved on mentally from tax season, she said.

Not all clients have the time, or the desire, to meet in person or have a phone call. Offer the chance to give feedback via email as well, or even through a survey. 

Be available. Juan Cocuy, CPA, a partner at the South Florida firm of Templeton & Company LLP, wants his clients to know how to reach him. He puts his cellphone number on his business cards, and he encourages clients to use it so that he can help them think through business dilemmas or offer a recommendation to a client in need of services.

"They can be in touch with me any time of the year," he said.

Figure out a communication medium. Everyone has their own preference in how they like to interact with clients. At MarksNelson, associates work closely with clients to make sure the firm is communicating with clients in the medium the clients prefer, Schiltz said.

Sarah Lane, CPA/PFS, who works at CLS Financial Advisors Inc., an advisory firm in Portland, Ore., has found that email works best for her and for many of her clients.  Lane works as a financial adviser at CLS and then does tax compliance work during the tax seasons for clients, many of whom are also her financial planning clients, through Schultz Group CPAs.

Email gives her a chance to think through what she's trying to convey.

"I can really organize my thoughts, and it creates a document," Lane said. "I know what I'm saying, and the client has time to process what I'm saying."

Other people may prefer using the phone to connect with clients, something that Cocuy does.

He acknowledges that calling a client to get updates on the client's life or business to see if tax planning is needed may be intimidating for some accountants, especially those who are introverted. But the more you do it, the easier it gets, he said.

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