H&R Block Launches 'Ask A Tax Advisor'

H & R Block debuted its "Ask a Tax Advisor" service, last week, which enables H & R Block customers instant access to H & R Block tax experts around the country. H&R Block's new "Ask a Tax Advisor" service allows customers quick, customized answers from H&R Block tax professionals for only $19.95 per solution. Using e-mail, live chat or phone, a Block professional will attempt to answer the taxpayer's specific tax questions.

"What customers really like about this service is that they are coming to do their own taxes, and even though they feel like they can do it themselves, we're here so they don't have to do it alone," said Aaron Horvath, senior product manager for H & R Block's online tax products.

Block's previous attempts at Internet assistance met with some problems. Last February, a technical problem switched some tax filers' records. When some registered users signed on to the service, they accessed other individuals' filings. In April, when there's increased traffic from last-minute filers, another technical glitch knocked the site offline. "Hopefully H & R Block has their stuff together this year," said Jupiter Research (JMXI, info) analyst Robert Sterling. "It would be very ugly if they did not."

While live tax help may seem like an obvious step for Block, the company needs to remember its strengths, according to Sterling. "H&R Block's real strength is they have these branch offices everywhere and a lot of talented people who do taxes, and that's a real strength, and they need to focus on that," said Sterling. "They demonstrated pretty clearly last year that they weren't very good at the Web side of it, so they've got to get better, but the main focus is bringing what they do well to more people."

"Frankly, a lot of people still want to have their hands held while they do taxes," said Sterling. "The real challenge is finding more products to push at that demographic."

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