On Clients Hating their Tax Pro

Before you read this post, read “The Tax Field is Broken” for background.

When I take on a new client who was working with a prior preparer, almost 100% of the time the client isn’t just dissatisfied with their prior preparer, but there’s hatred in the client’s voice (and yes, “hate” is the right word). The disgust is quite evident.

I see TONS of bitterness about phone calls not being returned and questions not being answered. I see tons of bitterness about people not understanding their tax situations or how to do things better, because the prior preparer didn’t communicate with them.

When clients say these things, I simply smile politely and keep my mouth shut. I actually do think my customer service is better than most, but that’s faint praise because the bar is really low. I know there’s a good chance this client will be saying the same things about me in the future.

The Field is Broken — But That’s Not the Client’s Problem

The tax field is broken — in fact I think it’s irreparably broken for solo operators and even for smaller firms with a few staff members. We’re operating on volume in a field where volume doesn’t work anymore.

Taxes are hard — I used to be fascinated by the complexity of taxes; now the complexity simply scares me. I spend so much time trying to get things right on tax returns and deal with the constant changes and the complexity and the risk, that a client’s phone call or email is a really low priority for me.

But here’s the thing: all of this is true … but it’s not the client’s problem. They want a service. We struggle to deliver that service.

We have really good reasons for that struggle, but it’s still not the client’s problem.

If I take my car in for an oil change, I expect the oil change to happen in a timely manner. I expect the mechanic to identify problems with my car, communicate those problems to me, and then fix the problems.

If the shop is shorthanded, or if new regulations have come out that make things harder on the shop, or my new model of car has a unique engine structure or some oddity that the mechanic has to figure out … I don’t care — I expect the shop to deliver the service and do so without inconveniencing me. If they can’t adequately deliver the service, I’ll go somewhere else. And most people would say to the shop: if you can’t figure out how to deliver the service, why are you saying you can?

That’s Why Clients Hate their Tax Pro

And this, dear reader, is why clients hate their tax pro.

The tax pro is buried under the rubble that is the tax field. (Insert your own adjective instead of “rubble,” if you want.) We’re not purposely giving you bad service. In fact, we probably want very much to make you happy. It’s just that the field isn’t set up for us to succeed anymore. (Read “The Tax Field is Broken” post for more details.) But again, that isn’t the client’s problem.

As I said in The Tax Field is Broken, I don’t know where this leaves solo operators. There are realities — bad realities — when you’re a solo operator trying to make it in this field. But those are my problems, not the client’s.

And so it all comes back to, where does that leave us as tax pros?