Today we’re revealing a secret project we did at Jetpack Workflow to see what we could learn from the big boys of the retail accounting world. Someone in our community was a recent customer service professional in 2019 and a tax preparer in 2020. We’ll call them “Sam.”
We will reveal what we learned about customer service and tax preparation that could make your firm even stronger. This is one of our most controversial posts, so make some coffee, grab a pen and paper, and start reading, listening, or watching.
- Why care about BigBox Tax?
- Different roles at the retail locations
- How to infuse “BigBox” responsiveness and efficiency into your firm
- Why BigBox Tax is in a tough spot right now.
Going Undercover at BigBox Tax
Why is BigBox Tax so important? One retail tax preparation chain grabbed 15% of the personal tax market, so they must be doing something right.
In the first year at a BigBox Tax location, Sam was a customer service professional. In the second year, Sam trained to be a tax preparer.
All About Customer Service
Though a customer service rep is at the bottom of the totem pole for many BigBox Tax locations, they play an incredibly important role. They are the interface between the customer and the service. A typical rep receives about four hours of training to fulfill the role, mostly about how to handle the cash drawer properly.
One immediate thing that BigBox Tax does is script every interaction with the customer.
These firms have strong workflow systems. When a phone rings, the person answering it will answer the same way every time. At least until the corporate office changes the procedure, which happened in 2020. When everything is documented well, you can scale your firm to serving thousands (or tens of thousands of clients knowing that you have a strong sense of quality control).
What the firm added was a request right at the start for the caller’s phone number, couching it as a way to get in touch with them should the call suddenly drop.
This serves a couple of purposes:
- First, it lets the customer know you’re really interested in talking with them.
- It also lets the CSP add the caller into the CRM system or pull up their records.
“Log everything. The less you have in your head, the more scalable (and profitable) your firm will become.”
Another observation that impressed Sam was the training on how to control a waiting room. Since they provide a retail service, people can come in at any time, and there isn’t always someone available. Sam literally had people coming in at closing on April 15th that they had to kick out!
CSPs extend hospitality to incoming customers, saying hello to them, getting their information, and managing their expectations about their session. If you want to include this role in your company, you need to have someone with good customer service skills. If you don’t have someone, then you, as the owner, are it! Find or hire that extrovert who knows how to calm people down and loves to reach out to people.
“Anyone on the team who interacts with the client is in customer service. They all represent you and your firm. Train appropriately!”
In fact, reaching out to people is a key skill because that is how a CSP can earn money for your business. We’ve all had clients miss a form or be too slow getting back to you. Having someone dedicated to following up with customers, whether by email or texting or even video conferencing, to get those cases closed can really speed up turnover. This isn’t just good customer service. It increases profits. This turns your customer service position from a cost center into a revenue generator.
Texting is crucial these days. Younger clients may see a phone call as an interruption, but they can pick up a text message later. However, texting doesn’t carry all the nuances that a phone call can deliver. You must gauge which approach is best for which clients. It might even be video if a client has a really difficult time figuring out how to upload documents or follow instructions.
Finally, a good CSP must keep detailed notes. Every client interaction, or attempt, needs to be documented so that the next time the customer calls, you can pick up where you left off. If you do these things and can integrate them into your remote business, you’ll have a leg up over BigBox Tax.
Unfortunately for them, BigBox Tax has been getting hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak and shuttering stores across the United States because they didn’t have enough remote workers and couldn’t take walk-ins. Additionally, to work as a remote tax preparer in BigBox, Sam discovered that one needs to be familiar with the tax requirements of all fifty states.
Pro Tip: If you want an easy product, get a course made right now to talk about how to do your own personal taxes and start promoting it! There’s a big audience waiting.
“Retail Tax is closing stores. It will be a massive shift to turn their entire infrastructure. For once, the small firms have an extreme advantage… as long as they act fast.”
For the second year, Sam became a tax preparer. BigBox Tax provided free training for them 90 hours over three months. 570 pages of material! Not everyone who takes the training makes it, but Sam did. Sam also believes that the teacher was excellent at explaining the material. Most of the material was made up of case studies of what to do in different situations. Thus, if you’re looking to hire an accountant, don’t discount someone just because they worked at a BigBox Tax company. They often have great training programs.
Working Remotely: Are they ready?
Fortunately, this final interview happened right on the brink of Covid-19. When the topic came up around working remotely, Sam told us “not at all”. They had deep concerns about immediately switching and changing to a 100% remote environment. While they might be in the process of transforming their tax services to meet the new virtual needs, changing these large organizations is no easy feat.
This creates an unprecedented opportunity for many, more nimble organizations to compete against Big Box retailers. Especially given how closely finances and stimulus checks, loans, or grants are processed, there very well could be a swell of demand on the accounting professional, and potentially the ones with the largest market share are, for the first time in the accounting profession perhaps, the ones least likely to be able to fulfill it!
Your Next Steps
Even if you don’t have the same aspiration as Retail Tax, it’s critical you take these learnings and apply them to your firm. Here’s a quick list of things to start doing today:
1. Document the small stuff.
How your team responds to an incoming phone call. How they organize and run team meetings or client meetings.
Practically speaking, open up a Google Doc, and type out the script for answering phones. In terms of running meetings, create a checklist that includes things like, “Did we assign a note-taker,” or, “Was an agenda with the goal of the meeting sent out in advance?” Simple measures drive efficiency.
2. Train your team.
If you think spending time on training is expensive, think of the cost of someone not representing your firm well.
Try to set aside some time (one hour) each quarter to train your team on an updated system. In times of extreme change (i.e. COVID-19 and the stimulus package), you might want to run daily debriefs with your team so everyone is on the same page when communicating with clients.
3. Ensure that everyone is on the front lines at some point.
This means everyone can answer phones. With downtime, your team can pick up the phone and go after the “client chase.”
Pro Tip: This requires you to have a system that makes it easy to identify which jobs are stuck. Jetpack Workflow can help with that.
4. Be prepared for the winds of change.
Retail tax might be dragging their feet when it comes to remote work and becoming fully digital. Realize that, and try to make sure your firm is set up to service and cater to the potential fall out of retail tax customers (both individual consumers and businesses). This point alone could mark one of the biggest opportunities in the entire industry.