By CPA Trendlines Research
Here’s an idea: IRS Concierge Service.
Don’t laugh! It’s at thing. Well … almost a thing. It’s a proposal for a thing, a thing that could happen.
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The notion was born of the Taxpayer First Act of 2019. The TFA requires the IRS to create a comprehensive customer service strategy and present it to Congress for approval. Part of the current proposal is for a “concierge service” for taxpayers. In this context, “concierge” means “a seamless journey.”
This is what the IRS imagines it could do:
“[A] taxpayer could begin their journey on IRS.gov, then could shift to ‘click-to-call’ or chat options to engage an assistor without leaving the channel they initially entered. With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, the IRS would assist in diagnosing issues not resolved on the web and shepherd the taxpayer to a ‘concierge’ type assistor, proactively. If the account issue is complex in nature, the concierge would escalate the issue to a subject matter expert (SME). If a SME is not readily available, the concierge would use an appointment process or callback technology to facilitate the transition between interactions and make the process seamless for the taxpayer.”
National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins says that the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to implement such a dream. In the private sector, she says, companies have made bold and innovative changes to deal with the pandemic. The IRS should follow suit – not to accommodate the coronavirus, per se, but to take advantage of the public’s newfound willingness to accept creative changes.
Make no mistake: a shift to a concierge level of service will not be easy. The IRS faces many challenges between here and there.
Enterprise Case Management
The IRS is already working on an enterprise case management (ECM) system that will knit together its disparate subsystems so that a customer service representative (CSR) can access a taxpayer’s complete history. But the changeover will require a multiyear funding commitment from Congress.
Unfortunately, Congress’s only multiyear commitment seems to be to decrease IRS funding to the point where the IRS is barely viable.
A concierge system would also require more training for IRS employees. They will need a strong working knowledge of the extremely complex IRS systems and routes of possible resolution to procedural and technical issues.
Once trained, they’re going to have to answer the phone or respond to chat requests on the IRS website, and they will need instant access to the caller’s history with the IRS.
It should come as no surprise to America’s tax preparers that the IRS phone system sucks. It sucks so bad that nobody at the IRS or in Congress knows how bad it sucks. Nobody knows because the IRS’s level of service (LOS) measurement also sucks.
One LOS measurement assesses the rate of success a taxpayer has in reaching a CSR. What it fails to measure, however, is how many times the taxpayer has to call and how long it took to get through to not just a real person but the right real person.
The current IRS budget calls for the Service to reach an LOS of 60 percent. In other words, Congress and the IRS find it reasonable that four out of 10 callers will not be able to reach a CSR. If six do, that’s good enough. The limitation isn’t because of the phones. It’s because there aren’t enough staff to answer them.
And get a load of this: LOS for CSR contact hit an incredible 100 percent for a brief time in 2020! Yay, right?
Well, no. It was 100 percent because, thanks to COVID-19, each and every caller received a recorded message. Problem solved, right?
No, problem not solved. The problem is that the IRS is trying to improve its LOS numbers, not its LOS measurement.
First Call Resolution
Another important LOS metric is that of first call resolution (FCR) – how often a taxpayer’s issue is resolved with a single phone call.
A 2020 survey found that an impressive 77 percent of callers who got through to a CSR had their problem solved with that single call. Ninety percent of those callers said they were satisfied with the service.
But among those who had to call more than once, only 70 percent were satisfied.
The conclusion is obvious: If taxpayers can get through to a CSR and have their problem resolved in a single call, they will consider themselves satisfied with the federal agency is that currently ranked as least satisfying.
Imagine that. That’s all it would take: sufficient staff sufficiently trained and with access to a given taxpayer’s case history. And a telephone.