Apparently, even when a company has a policy in place, satisfaction isn’t always guaranteed. Customers of H&R Block are getting to know this lesson very well this tax season. According to reports, a mandatory field on form 8863 used for education credits was left blank. While the IRS would previously have accepted a blank field as a “no” response, this wasn’t the case with this year’s form. Now that the issue has been identified, the IRS can correct the error, but it is causing approximately 600,000 H&R Block customers a delay in receiving their refunds of up to 6-8 weeks. While the individual impact for taxpayers can be painful, these kinds of mistakes can happen with such a complicated tax code. The real problem is in the poor response from H&R Block.
The issue occurred on returns filed between February 14th and 22nd. This means that the issue was corrected at that time, but customers were not informed of the issue at that time. It wasn’t until last week that information began to surface about the problem. Customers began to question notices from the IRS asking for additional information and delays in the processing of their returns. H&R Block gave some information on their Facebook page, but failed to send a notification to customers until well after the story broke. In fact, one customer I contacted, who is not a Facebook user, provided me with an email that he received just before 2 a.m. today. Yes, that’s March 13th – almost three full weeks after the error was corrected. The irony of that timeline is that the IRS estimate for the completion of tax returns is within 21 days after they are accepted. H&R Block didn’t even issue an apology to customers until today. And the brief apology was simply posted at the end of an update to their Facebook page.
The question many customers have at this point is what, if any, compensation will they receive for the problem. Unfortunately, it seems at this point the answer from H&R Block is that they will only get an oops…sorry about that. Many customers have asked if their filing fees will be refunded. As of right now, it seems the answer to that question is a resounding no. The customer I spoke with actually got on the phone with an H&R Block representative a couple of days ago and asked if they would refund his fees. He was told that they would not be refunding any fees for this issue. According to the representative, they didn’t recognize any inconvenience that justified refunding the fees. He was advised that they had resources that told them he should get at least a partial refund within a matter of days. Today is the day that he was told to look for his refund and he has still not received anything. Other reports have detailed customers who used H&R Block refund loans that are piling up interest because the customers can’t pay them back until their refund comes through.
How does this mesh with H&R Block’s Satisfaction Guarantee? If you navigate to the guarantee from the H&R Block homepage, you will get a description of the guarantee for online customers that only covers inaccuracies in their calculations and the fact that they guarantee you will receive the maximum refund using their service. The only place you will find a guarantee that states you don’t have to pay if you are dissatisfied is on the at-home software and in-office services. This guarantee provides the company a loophole that will save them tens of thousands of dollars in refunds. It also leaves these customers out in the cold.
If H&R Block were to pay attention to today’s market, they would recognize that the money they will save by refusing to ensure that their customers are satisfied and refund their filing fees is nothing compared to the cost of losing these customers. Thank goodness I didn’t use H&R Block this year. Based on the response to the situation, I don’t think I’ll use them again. Similar pledges have been pouring in on social media from customers. Many of these people, such as the customer I interviewed, have used H&R Block for years. This doesn’t even take into account people who don’t use H&R Block, and won’t after seeing this terrible response. This is just one more in a large line of mistakes by companies that are more interested in a short-term bottom line than providing great service and ensuring future growth.
Fortunately, it’s not too late for H&R Block to correct this situation. Don’t act like a typical corporation, make the wise decision, be proactive. Admit your terrible mistake and the effects of the issue on the people. Get out in front of the issue and refund the filing fees of any affected customer. Waive the interest on any affected short-term tax refund loans. Show the people that you actually do care about their satisfaction with your service and not just the bottom line. In short – do the right thing.