By Jassen Bowman
Tax Resolution Systems
The setup of your office environment is important for three primary reasons:
- Ensuring workplace safety
- Creating a positive client experience
- Enabling maximum operational efficiency
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The following checklists will assist you in making sure that your office is set up to achieve each of these three objectives.
Exterior Evaluation Checklist
The physical appearance of your office exterior can say a lot about your tax practice. Your office location and exterior attributes should “mesh” with the image you are trying to portray for your firm. Your clients should see their expectations regarding the type and quality of your services reflected in the exterior of your office space.
Give consideration to other tax offices you have visited. What appealed to you about those exteriors? What didn’t you like? Are you after foot traffic?
- Is your signage easily visible from the street?
- Is it obvious where people should park?
- Does the parking lot and exterior convey a sense of safety?
- What do neighboring businesses convey about your location and status?
- Is your location and exterior appearance suitable to your target market? (Aka, is there market-to-message match consistent with your location/exterior?)
- Is the parking lot empty during business hours? (You want people to get the impression that you’re busy, so cars in the parking lot are a good thing.)
- What do your signs, banners and window posters say about your business? Is there market-to-message match between that signage and your chosen clientele?
- Do you have the ability to place A-frames or other items on streets or sidewalks to generate walk-in traffic?
- Are your business neighbors suitable to cross-selling opportunities? (E.g., if you’re next door to an auto parts store, does your signage reflect/draw a blue-collar clientele?)
Example of a location evaluation: After finding a very nice space at a high-traffic intersection across the parking lot from a well respected local bank in Washington state, I took the time to call the leasing agents for the neighboring retail/office buildings. In the process of these calls, I discovered that the state had recently issued a retail recreational marijuana license to the address less than 100 feet across the parking lot. Given the particular clientele that I am attempting to attract, I decided NOT to lease this space and to keep looking instead.
Interior Evaluation Checklist
- Upon entering your office, is it clear to visitors where they should go?
- What does a person first see when they walk in the door?
- What does this image convey?
- Does your interior convey the level of sophistication that matches your target market?
- Downgraded or upgraded finishes?
- Comfortable couches or folding chairs?
- Do the plants match the rest of the décor?
- Artwork or marketing posters?
- Cutting-edge image or more “corporate” image?
- If it’s appropriate for your target market, what branding and upsell marketing exists in your office?
- Are client testimonials and photos displayed appropriately?
At the beginning of each month, obtain current issues of popular magazines for your waiting area. Good examples of magazines to have on hand include Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, People, etc.
Daily Office Setup Verification Checklist
Each morning, the office manager should check all of the following:
- Turn on all computers.
- Turn on copiers and printers, and print/copy one test page on each machine.
- Ensure lobby area is clean and presentable.
- If using paper client files, pull appropriate file for each appointment for that day and place in Preparation bin for the day.
- Verify that client check-in computer is functional, or ensure that client sign-in sheets are available and pens placed if using paper system.
- Make sure that New Client Organizers are available at front desk with pen and clipboard.
- Place test call from another line to main office number to verify phones operate and that voicemail is operational.
- Check voicemail messages.
- Check Internet connectivity.
- Run tax software updates.
- Verify company website is online and reachable.
- Make sure that front door is unlocked and Open sign is on/visible.
Document Posting Board
Every tax office should have a specific place where all required public and employee notices are posted (this may actually be two separate areas, one for public, one for staff).
Common items that you may need to have posted include:
- Business license
- Sales tax license
- Workers compensation posting
- State labor poster
- Federal labor law poster
- FMLA poster
- Liability insurance certificate
- IRS EFIN letter
- EA, CPA or attorney registration certificate
Your office voicemail message should be changed to reflect the season. Here is a sample script.
“Thank you for calling ___________. If you’d like the most up-to-date information on paying the least possible amount of income tax, you can visit us on the web at _______. Currently, our [seasonal] hours are ___________. If you are calling during these hours, please try calling back in a few minutes, as our front office manager may currently be busy assisting another client. Otherwise, please leave a message with your name, number and how we may be of assistance. Thank you for choosing _______.”
Initial Client Interaction Checklist
A client or prospect’s first impression upon walking into your office has a LOT to do with your front desk person. Your front desk staff carries a critical role in your office, and genuinely requires a friendly, if not “bubbly” personality (be they male or female). This person must LOVE the public and want to make people feel welcome. You need to hire specifically for this position.
- All visitors, be they clients or otherwise, should be acknowledged with courtesy and respect.
- Client should be directed to sign in (paper or electronic).
- Client should be handed New Client Information Sheet (tax organizer).
- Always ensure that the front desk is covered during tax season. During business hours, there should NEVER not be a staff person at reception.
- Tax preparers and other staff who are not currently assisting clients should be “backup” phone answerers when reception is assisting a walk-in client.
Paper File Management
While it is highly encouraged that you adopt a paperless system within your tax office for efficiency purposes, we understand that many practitioners are uncomfortable with a paperless office for a variety of reasons (or they don’t think it’s possible, which it is these days).
If you still utilize paper files for your clients, it’s important to have a process for managing these files.
- When a client return for the current year has been completed, reviewed and all necessary documents signed by the taxpayer, make sure that the current year paperwork is properly filed with the client’s prior years file.
- For returns that are awaiting additional information/documentation from the client, maintain a specific “holding” area specifically for such pending returns.
- For returns awaiting payment, maintain a specific collections holding area, and establish a regular schedule for client contact for payment (at least weekly).
- Maintain an “awaiting pickup” holding area.
- Maintain an “awaiting review” holding area.
- At the start of each work day, pull all client files with appointments for that day. This is your “Preparation” bin.
- For NEW clients with appointments, create new client folder and place in Preparation.
- Enforce the rule that client files should NEVER be anywhere other than Pending, Collections, Pickup, Review or Preparation.
Office Safety/Risk Assessment Checklist
- Are chairs and desks suited to tasks and users?
- Are computers and printers suitably positioned?
- Are computer cables and leads secured safely?
- Is glare from windows and light fittings minimized?
- Are staff able to change postures and rotate tasks in order to minimize occupational overuse syndrome?
- Are floors non-slip and clear of obstructions?
- Are noise levels controlled?
- Are shelving and cupboards at safe heights?
- Are there security procedures for cash handling?
- Are “sharps” containers, protective gloves and procedures in place to dispose of syringes?
- Is the air conditioning maintained regularly?
- Are the toilets – bowls, cisterns, hand basins, paper holders, dryers – all in working order?
- Is the storage layout designed to minimize lifting problems (between knee and shoulder)?
- Is there easy access for people and equipment?
- Are floors around racking or shelves clear of rubbish?
- Are storage boxes clearly labeled, easy to handle, and not heavy?
- Are there any broken plugs, sockets or switches, or frayed or damaged leads?
- Are extension leads and power strips checked and tagged?
- Are circuit breakers installed?
- Is there any unsafe wiring?
- Is any wiring left dangling or untaped on the floor, making a trip point?
- Is illumination adequate for each task?
- Is there good natural lighting?
- Is there good light reflection from walls and ceilings?
- Are light fittings clean and in good condition?
- Are there any loose ceiling tiles around lights?
- Are there any blown globes or unsafe wiring?
- Are kits and contents appropriate for each area?
- Is there easy access to kits?
- Are kits clearly labeled?
- Are emergency contact numbers displayed?
- Does the facility have a wheelchair or folding bed?
- Are staff or volunteers trained in first aid (and if so, is there written documentation)?
- Are smoke alarms fitted?
- Are smoke alarms regularly checked and batteries replaced?
- Are power points covered?
- Are all electrical items, including computers and monitors, turned off when not in use?
- Are heating units in good condition, regularly maintained and ducts cleaned?
- Do you have appropriate firefighting equipment (e.g., fire blanket, fire extinguisher) in key areas?
- Do staff and volunteers know how to use them?
- Are these regularly inspected?
- Do you have an evacuation and emergency plan?
- Is the plan posted in key locations? Are staff, volunteers and clients aware of it? Is it practiced?
- Do you have sprinklers or fire alarms fitted?
- Does equipment design allow normal body positions when seated or standing?
- Has a limit been set on the weight and size of materials lifted or carried by people?
- Where people are required to stand for long periods on concrete floors, are adequate floor coverings provided?
- If people are required to be seated for long periods, are ergonomic chairs provided?
- Do staff have mini-breaks when sitting for long periods? Do these follow recommended guidelines?
- Have computer stations been set up in accordance with ergonomic guidelines?
- Do you have access for people with disabilities?
- Are hallways and doors accessible for seniors and wheelchairs?
- Are accessible restrooms available?