Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TurboTax troubles in Minnesota

It started strangely with an e-mail that I received from Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax, on March 6:  "Because you submitted a TurboTax return to the state of Minnesota prior to March 1, 2013, we wanted to alert you to an error that may impact your state tax return. . ."

What!?! Sometimes I do things far in advance, but I knew that I hadn't filed my taxes yet. Could this be a phishing e-mail? Rather than click on any links in the e-mail, I decided to call the 1-866 number for Intuit that was listed. After waiting on hold for 30 minutes, the customer service representative said that I didn't have anything to worry about because I had not filed my 2012 return yet.

Little did I know that I -- and thousands of other Minnesotans -- had a lot to worry about.

On March 8, Terri Steenblock, assistant commissioner of Individual Taxes at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, held a press conference outlining "completely unacceptable" issues with Intuit tax products including TurboTax. Besides assigning political contributions to the wrong party, the software also failed to give an education credit for multiple dependents and incorrectly calculated property tax refunds.

TurboTax troubles
The e-mail that I received from Bob Meighan, TurboTax VP.
While the issues were resolved by the afternoon of March 11, I thought that it would be interesting to see how Intuit handled this crisis.

Last July, I attended a crisis communications seminar presented by Jack Yeo and John Brooks at the PRSA Midwest District Conference in Chicago.

According to Yeo and Brooks, there are eight laws of crisis communications:
  1. Protecting reputation is not about the crisis, but rather how you handle it. Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller was apologetic in a March 9 Star Tribune article:  "We deeply appreciate the state's concerns. We stand behind the accuracy of our tax product. We hold ourselves to a higher standard, as does the state, as do our customers, and we need to do better."
  2. Be aware of the world around you. I heard about the extent of the issues through the news media. There are Twitter accounts for TurboTax, though (@TurboTax and @TeamTurboTax) -- and neither mentions the issues. The TurboTax Facebook page doesn't address it, either.
  3. There is no excuse for not planning. I'm not sure if Intuit ever anticipated these "human errors" in coding, but hopefully they will work on assessing possible crisis situations in the future.
  4. A swift response is required. Both Miller and Meighan were quoted in media articles. While the company has pledged to pay any tax preparation expenses for those who have to file amended returns as a result of the problems, what about the rest of the people in Minnesota who use TurboTax? I believe that Minnesotans will be rethinking whether to use TurboTax in the future; some sort of incentive would be appropriate to keep customers. (Perhaps a free Minnesota state e-file is in order?)
  5. Understand the impact of today's digital democracy. I didn't see any response from Intuit in the social channels, even though there were hashtags such as #GetItTogether and #TaxFail.
  6. Always operate with transparency. While Intuit responded to (and was quoted) in media articles, their communications to me only mentioned the political contribution software issue.
  7. Never stand alone. Nobody stood up for Intuit and TurboTax. While people "love" the software, that's only when it gets things right.
  8. Never forget to rebuild. To this date, the only communication I received directly from Intuit was the e-mail as well as a letter in the mail. Both items only mentioned the State Elections Campaign Fund" issue and didn't address the other (multiple) issues with the software.
So, if I were to grade Intuit's response to this issue, I would give them a "C." The company came across as levelheaded in media articles, but was nowhere to be found in the social media channels. In addition, it will be interesting to see what Intuit will do to keep its customers. I bet that there are many Minnesotans looking for tax preparation software alternatives for the future.
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