HR Block’s Software Strategy: “You got people”


Soylent Green?

The new formula for software success? People. H&R Block‘s new slogan, “You got people”, coincides with their apparent transformation into a hybrid of their old business as a tax preparation service company and their new business as a tax preparation software company. They’re positioning themselves within the software market as a different kind of software maker: they don’t just offer programs like their flagship TaxCut package — their software is backed up by people whom you can actually talk to when you need more help filing your taxes.

Of course plenty of big companies offer great person-to-person customer service, but this H&R Block example strikes me as the first time a shrinkwrapped software product has been explicitly connected with flesh-and-blood people as part of a holistic service offering — or at least as part of a marketing slogan!

We are slowly seeing this with other people-centric technological services. Social networks and other user-generated content services like YouTube are one thing, but we’re also seeing technology companies themselves offering people to their customers, from Google’s experimental (and apparently now defunct) Answers service to 37signals‘ unusually direct dialogues with their customers via their blog and product support boards.

This model has long existed for enterprise software, where for many of the big vendors consulting is as big a revenue generator as licensing fees. And it has existed forever in the shareware and independent or small software developer scene, where the customer-to-employee (or -developer) ratio is small enough that the developer often has both the time and the inclination to provide support. But are we seeing the emergence of the hybrid software/service model for mainstream consumer and small-business software and web services? Could be interesting.


8 responses to “HR Block’s Software Strategy: “You got people””

  1. Oliver Saunders Avatar
    Oliver Saunders

    The British Government provides online and telephone resources for everyone doing their tax return for free.

    I just had to do it recently and I was pretty happy with the experience, apart from some poor error reporting in one place.

  2. I’m more interested in what H&R Block’s marketing department was smoking when they decided they didn’t need no stinked grammars for them’s slogan. You got people, bitches!

  3. Ryan Grove: So you think it should be “You have people”, then? I actually don’t agree. The whole point is that you bought software and with it you got people.

    Of course, the site itself says “When you got H&R Block, you got people”, which is seemingly just wrong — unless they are congratulating someone who just became a customer, in which case it’s entirely correct.

    The whole “have vs. got” debate is often quite tiresome to me — nine times out of ten the distinction is blurry enough that it’s not really a matter of grammar anymore but just style.

    It really depends on whether the context allows you to imply an action versus pure ownership. You cannot, for example, say “I got ten dollars in my wallet”, but you can say “I got ten dollars” and mean the same thing simply because it’s plausible that you mean that at some point you received ten dollars. Many people put more psychological emphasis in their memories and consciousness on the receipt of an object or service than on the posession of it, so the word “got” comes to mind before “have” when they describe the situation.

    Rule of thumb for would-be grammatical finger-waggers: Just because you can read a sentence in a hillbilly voice and make it sound like an authentic hillbilly statement doesn’t necessarily mean it’s grammatically incorrect. A lot of what we think is wrong just ain’t.

  4. Chris,

    I was a little ticked off by that ad when I first heard it and saw the commercials. Those fuckers are targeting the urban “black” market with that Jive talking shit and income tax anticipation loan. You aint got people modafuckas 😉

    Your other points are well taken.

  5. Larry: The anticipation loan is flat-out exploitation. I’ve seen the TV ads you’re talking about and yeah, H&R Block isn’t exactly the most ethical company around. It’s not just the “urban black market”, either — go to the site and you’ll see a big photo of working class-looking “country white folks”, too.


    necesito se reporte alguien conmigo que hable español, por favor, este es mi correo electronico, gracias….urgente.

  7. Chris/Larry, First off the “you got people” campaign is aimed at EVRYONE. Income tax preparation is one of the most frightening things to most Americans. Buying some software to do it yourself is great but not everyone knows all the CORRECT answers to all the questions that are asked. It gives people a sense of security to know they have someone behind the box who can answer their questions. The Refund Anticipation Loans are not just aproduct of H&R Block. Liberty and Jackson-Hewitt use them also as do other paid preparers. Are the interest rates high? Sure but so are default rates on the loans if the IRS doesn’t fund the full amount of the expected refund leaving the bank to try to collect. If the banks never had problems like that, the interest rates would be much lower. It’s no different than payday loan offices or check cashing services. Ever check their interests rates? As for H&R Blocks ethics, you’re way off base with that comment!!!

  8. @Rex: You’re trying to say refund anticipation loans are not bad by saying they’re no different from payday loans and check cashing services? Both of those services exist to exploit the poor as well, to rip off people who are falling between the cracks of the economy. Gimme a break.

    Nobody is trashing the idea of there being accountants, and in fact I am glad there are affordable tax-preparation accounting services for poorer Americans. This is where H&R Bock got their start. It is when they decided to get into the *lending* business as well that they decided to throw aside some of their ethics.

    You are right, though, that it’s not just H&R block. There are bottom-feeding unethical exploitative financial products in almost every company in the whole FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) sector.

    Our country is suffering more and more every day due to exploitative lending practices and irresponsible borrowing behavior.