We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of preparing a tax return for a client, you’re missing a document or the answer to a question. You’ve asked them for it 3 times in 3 days and…crickets. They don’t send what you’re asking for or even respond to your multiple inquiries. And you are stuck, you cannot move forward without their input. Not only is it frustrating and inconvenient, but it also eats into your profits because you are spending time on asking them to respond once again instead of allocating your time for other clients.
Imagine if every client was 100% on top of everything—all the time—and you always had exactly what you needed, when you needed it. Sound too good to be true? Well, it is. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect client (shocking and disappointing, I know). So what’s the good news? There are a few things that you can do to help your clients stay on top of things, especially when it comes to getting what you need to do your job.
Here are 6 things you can do to get clients to give you what you need:
- Have an established process. What are the basics of your process? Even if things need to be tweaked based on the individual needs of each client, having a timeline stating when you will need certain things and laying it out upfront will help your clients look ahead and prepare for what’s coming. We encourage you to talk them through the timeline verbally via phone or face-to-face meetings (for the auditory learners). Also, provide them with a handout or a link to a printed/online version of the schedule (for the visual learners).
- Be specific. If your client doesn’t know exactly what you need, they may avoid trying to figure it out because they don’t want to have to ask you what you meant when you asked for their AGI from last year. It’s easy to assume that something is “common knowledge;” but if your client is a new business owner, they may need more guided help to stay on track. Whenever possible, share direct links to any sites they may need to visit to attain the information you need.
- Ask multiple times, in more than one way. If you ask them in person to send you something when they get back to the office and it doesn’t happen, send an email reminding them what you need. Then, call the next day and check in to make sure they don’t need anything else from you before sending that info over. Don’t be afraid to keep asking until they send it to you. Sometimes you have to be the squeaky wheel if you want to get things done.
- Provide more than one way for them to get things to you. Can forms be sent to you electronically? Dropped off in person at your office? Mailed to you? Being as flexible as possible goes a long way toward getting your clients to respond quicker. If you want clients to mail things to you, sending them per-addressed stamped envelopes will help. If you want them to drop things off at your office, be sure you give them something that indicates when the office is open and who to leave it with. And if you want them to submit forms electronically, use trusted tools like Docusign so people don’t procrastinate because they’re not sure the process is secure.
- Have an open door policy. This doesn’t mean that you’re available to your clients 24/7, whenever they have a question. That’s unrealistic, unfair, and unhealthy. But being available by email or by phone during normal working hours and being willing to respectfully answer even the silliest of silly tax questions will help your clients to connect with you. They will see and respect your timeline and your needs, and they will feel more comfortable asking for clarification or help if they need it. Remember, you also don’t need to be the only person that can answer questions. Equip your front desk staff with a document of frequently asked questions and instruct them to refer to it when needed.
- Let them know that deadlines may be missed. As you get closer to a deadline for something needing to be turned in, send them another email letting them know of the approaching due date, how long it will take you to complete the submission once you get what you need, and reminding them again of exactly what you need from them. There’s a sad but true aspect of human nature, sometimes people don’t make it a priority to reply when they think they’re only inconveniencing you. When it starts to inconvenience them, it becomes a different story altogether.
There are a million things that could be getting in the way of your clients responding to your inquiries. Be patient and remember, you may need to explain things more than once. Also, be sure to ask for what you need well in advance of when you need it. Keep in mind, your clients are busy too and sometimes they just need a little nudge. Ultimately, if your client fails to get a document to you in a timely manner, they are the ones who will have to suffer the consequences of missed deadlines. However, it is still in your best interest to do everything in your power to keep your clients on track.