Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'Cause I'm the Taxman (but I'm actually very nice)

Millions of Americans let out a collective exhale at 12:01 this morning, with taxes finally submitted and a whole year until April 15th rolls around again. The annual ritual, with its reams of forms and arcane codes, is a source of stress for many - in fact, according to a Pew research study, 56% of Americans either "dislike" or "hate" the tax process. But taxation itself aside, does tax day have to be this way?

Yesterday's episode of the radio show Marketplace suggests that it doesn't. The show featured a Midwestern accountant, Bruce McFarland, who's made the improvement of the tax experience an integral part of his practice. In his own words:
The best part of my job is being able to show people that having your taxes prepared by a professional is not a tense thing, it's not a bad thing...It's the kind of thing that you can go and you know you're going to get treated correctly, you're going to get the most for your money and that (it's) calm.
He goes on to describe the various ways that his office experience is designed to put customers at ease: a 1960s theme that includes a VW Bus piggy bank and a Woodstock poster, his own refusal to cut his ponytail or wear a tie. And he stresses the importance of making the process itself less difficult by breaking down the components and reminding customers that, after all, taxes are "only numbers."

I'm an Experience Strategist here at RTC, so the idea of redesigning environments and processes to influence the customer experience is obviously interesting to me. But it also has real applications for a lot of different services and industries, especially those traditionally associated with stress. Chronic medical care, airline travel, sales calls: how can we change these experiences - whether through new delivery behaviors, environmental modification, or the structure of the experience itself? We've made some efforts (there's a reason that doctors' waiting rooms are painted soft colors), but there's a long way to go. And, if you're feeling energetic (we here at RTC are!), there's a lot of room for innovation.

To read more about Bruce McFarland's efforts to make tax preparation less stressful, visit his blog, Missouri Tax Guy. And for a humorous take on potential ways to reduce waiting room stress, check out this January feature from FastCoDesign.

PS: My name is Hillary, and I'm new around here. The impact of experience on behavior change is one of my favorite topics, so look for more on this in the future.

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