April 15-The Real April Fool’s Day?

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Here in the heartland of America it’s a beautiful day.  As I sit here in my palatial office (actually a spare bedroom) I can hear the birds singing and almost hear the buds popping open on the trees.  All is well!

OK, maybe all isn’t well.  It’s April 15, sort of like April Fool’s Day on steroids.  As I prepare to send off a five figure check to the IRS, the beauty of the day seems to dim a little.  Maybe the birds aren’t singing.  Maybe they’re laughing at me.  It’s hard to say.

I don’t mind paying my fair share, I really don’t.  But my fair share was withheld from my IRA distributions throughout the year.  Yet, I still owe almost twenty grand because someone at my former employer didn’t feel the need to inform me that there would be a huge tax liability at the end of the year.  “Oops.  Sorry.”

It’s quite a hit for someone who didn’t actually earn a dime in 2009.

Then there’s my second son.  He owes $1,000.00.  That may not seem like a lot to you and me, but this young man made less in 2009, working two jobs, than I paid in taxes.  Like his old man, his tax liability is the result of someone at one of his employers dropping the ball.  In spite of his several requests, they failed to withhold taxes from his salary.  “Oops”, again.

I know many of you have similar nightmares and I guess having a blog gives me the opportunity to rant once in a while.  Here’s the thing, $1 billion of the “stimulus” money is going to hire thousands of new IRS agents.  Why?  Because a lot of us have had it up to here with a government that thinks our hard-earned money is somehow their money.  Because all of us, especially small business owners, feel like we contribute more than enough to Washington, our state capitals, counties, and municipalities.  Face it, most of us don’t trust the government.  By hiring thousands of additional IRS agents, the feds are making it painfully obvious that they don’t trust us either.

We’re shocked that the word “million” seems to have almost vanished from the national vocabulary to be replace by the word “billion” (1,000,000,000).  [Note:  “Millions” of Americans are out of work.  That seems to be the only place the “M word is still in wide usage.] Trillion (1,000,000,000,000), a number so big that most Americans can’t even comprehend it, is thrown around ever so casually by a government that acts like there is no limit to what you and I can be forced to pay.

I don’t mean to get all political on a business blog, but whatever we contribute to the government is money that we can’t use to build up our businesses.  And if we can’t build up our businesses, where are we going to find jobs for the millions of our friends and neighbors who are out of work?  Besides, this isn’t a liberal or conservative issue.  Both sides treat our paychecks like Monopoly money.

But, take heart, Tax Freedom Day occurs at about the same time as Tax Filing Day.  That means that everything you’ve made so far this year will go to pay the various taxes but what you make from now until the end of the year is yours.

Is it a coincidence that our tax day falls on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic?  I don’t think so.

Customer Service–Washington Style

I consider myself a good citizen, certainly one who loves my country. But I have to admit that I have some trust issues with the current crowd in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. So, you can imagine my response when I received a letter over the weekend from the United States Department of State. I was born right here in the heartland of America, so I don’t think they can deport me.  It’s doubtful that the current administration would appoint me as ambassador to anything or any place.  So. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

I opened the envelope and was relieved when it didn’t explode or spew any strange white powder.  In fact, it actually contained money–a money order for $8.48!

It was so long ago that I had almost forgotten it, but last summer, when I applied for a passport, to be blunt, they screwed it up.  My official US identification said that I was born in Hannibal, Maryland.  (MO vs MD)  It’s a simple mistake except for the fact that (1) there is no Hannibal, Maryland and (2) my previous passport had the correct information.

I had visions of myself returning to the US only to be told that my passport was invalid and that I would have to go back to Ireland (not an altogether unpleasant thought) but for the sake of my wife and kids, I decided I’d better get the thing straightened out.  So I sent everything back so they could try again.  The second time was the charm.  Of course I had to pay to have photos retaken and to mail everything back to South Carolina.

The letter I received this week was the government’s “mea culpa”.  Here’s what it said:

Dear Mr. Buckley:

The Charleston Passport Center deeply regrets the error that occurred during the processing of your passport.  Please accept the enclosed money order as reimbursement for your costs associated with this error.

We apologize for any inconvenience that you may have experienced, and hope that our next opportunity to serve your passport needs will be more proficient. [emphasis mine]

Sincerely yours,

Timothy M. Wiesnet

Director

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the $8.48 and will put it to good use.  Obviously the government is trying to get its act together when it comes to customer service.  But they need to work on the time thing.  It’s been about nine months since the original mistake was made.

Fortunately for you and me, we can learn from others’ mistakes.  When we make a mistake, own up to it right away.  We should correct our errors in hours, not months.  Own up to it, apologize, do whatever it takes to restore the customer to their desired state (refund, replacement product or service, whatever it takes) and you end up with a loyal customer.  Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Of course, the next time I need to renew my passport I won’t be able to shop around.  The government is mother of all monopolies.  Give them points for doing something when they didn’t have to anything at all.  But, you and I aren’t that lucky. Our customers do have a choice.  We have to do everything we can to make sure that they choose us.