Why I Did My Own Taxes This Year

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012 via CC License

This article was originally published on the FCR blog on March 1, 2017. Click here to read the original.

I’ve always filed my own taxes and am generally a bit fearful that I’m going to royally mess something up and either miss out on a refund, or worse, get audited by the IRS. Fortunately, thanks to the tax preparation software out on the market, I’ve emerged from tax season unscathed.

After selling a house and moving for work in 2015, I decided it was finally time to hire someone else to file my taxes in 2016. A friend of mine referred me to a local CPA who I promptly contacted and set up an appointment with. After deciding to hire her I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

As it turns out, this would be both the first and the last time I hire this CPA to do my taxes. Let me chronicle our communication for you so you can see why.

  • Initial appointment with CPA on March 10- The initial, in person meeting was good. I brought as much paperwork as I could think to bring and gathered a few other items she requested. I remember asking how much it would cost and she said something like, “It really depends on how many forms you need, but probably between $300 and $500.” My initial reaction was “Ouch,” but I felt like it was the best decision. We didn’t discuss when she would actually complete filing my taxes.
  • Follow up email to CPA on March 10- I promptly went home and scanned all of the additional information she requested and sent it over. Her response? Radio silence.
  • Email to CPA on March 16- I received a form 1095 in the mail and sent that over to her. Her response? “I got the 1095.” Seriously — that’s all she wrote!
  • Email to CPA on April 5- I wrote and asked for an ETA on when my taxes would be done. Her response? “It should be done by the end of the week.” Again, that’s all she wrote.

The next communication I received was from an employee at their office who informed me that I could pick up my paperwork and pay my bill at their office, which ended up being more like $500. That’s five times more than I’ve ever paid to file my taxes. Did I get what I paid for? Hardly.

Now for the portion of the article where I deliver an important public service announcement about customer service:

If you work in any business, regardless of your role, customer service IS your job!

I hope the above statement qualifies my belief that a major aspect of a CPA’s job is customer service. Let’s break down my experience and talk about how she could have significantly improved it and probably earned a repeat customer in the process.

  • Set clear expectations – Time and price are two expectations you want to be very clear with customers on — especially when a deadline like April 16 looms. Not only was I concerned about meeting the deadline, I also hoped it would be sooner because I was expecting a tax refund. She should have set this expectation with me up front. Looking at the cost, she did set an expectation level of $300 to $500. I of course latched onto $300 and was really disappointed to find out that it was actually at the high end of that range. It sure would have been nice to get a more accurate estimate up front or get an update as soon as she knew the actual cost.
  • Avoid the next issue – Looking at my communication history with the CPA, at least one, maybe two emails were totally preventable with better communication up front. Had she given me a time estimate, she could have reduced the number of emails from a customer by at least one. Every CPA I’ve ever known is really, really busy during tax season so I’m assuming that one less email to respond to, multiplied by however many other clients asked that question, would have saved her some time.
  • Where are my warm fuzzies? – I don’t actually demand warm fuzzies, but my exchanges with the CPA were darn near robotic. Is a “thank you so much for your business” or an “I really appreciate your patience” really too much to ask for?

In retrospect, perhaps my simple tax return was small potatoes in comparison to my CPA’s other clients. Or perhaps she was just so busy that all she could manage were one line responses. Here’s the deal. I approached the CPA willing to pay significantly more for their expertise and found the experience to be much LESS enjoyable and in no way better than using software to do it myself.

On a related note, there’s a lot of talk and debate about how far companies are willing to go with customer service automation. One of the key arguments against automation is the value of the human to human connection. Humans still have the ability to solve complex problems that machines can’t — and they can most certainly make more meaningful connections with other humans. Many roles that fail to drive this connection and differentiate from the less expensive, automated alternatives will likely be automated.

Regardless of your role, business, or industry, you can learn a lesson from my CPA. Your customers typically choose to do business with you — sometimes giving you one shot to get it right. Perhaps they’ve hired you for your expertise when doing it themselves offers significant cost savings.

Is it any surprise that I threw the tax preparation checklist the CPA sent me this year in the trash and opted to go back to doing my own taxes? Great customer service IS a key differentiator and can prove to your customers that the added expense is worth it.

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