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The IRS Needs to Modernize the Way It Serves Taxpayers Over the Telephone, Which Should Become an Essential Part of an Omnichannel Customer Service Environment

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses



Include identity theft case receipts Develop a comprehensive strategy for improving IRS telephone service to be included in the next Strategic Plan and in the Annual Appropriation Requests, with specific initiatives to increase taxpayer satisfaction.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​We agree with this recommendation. One of the IRS’s strategic goals is to empower and enable all taxpayers to meet their tax obligations through secure and innovative services, tools, and support. Prior to the beginning of each fiscal year, the IRS submits a comprehensive plan for initiative funding requests to increase the telephone LOS, designed to improve customer service for taxpayers. There are no current plans to reduce the level of funding available for telephone services. We remain hopeful that the expansion of online applications and services will enable us to deliver a higher LOS within current resources.


TAS RESPONSE: As described above, the National Taxpayer Advocate remains seriously concerned with the IRS’s use of the LOS as the primary barometer of the taxpayer experience seeking help over the phone. Delivering a high LOS alone can be a hollow result if taxpayers are unable to resolve their questions on the call. While the IRS claims to agree with our recommendation for a comprehensive strategy for telephone service, it’s response does not detail specific initiatives for doing so and relies on the hope that expansion of non-telephone services will save the LOS. We encourage the IRS to pursue initiatives to improve taxpayers’ experience over the phone beyond just raising the LOS and to prioritize appropriate funding for telephone services in setting its budget.

Improving customer experience with federal services was highlighted as one of the Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goals in the President’s Management Agenda, which specifically calls for providing a modern, streamlined, and responsive customer experience. Similarly, the 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill required the IRS to submit a plan to the Committees on Appropriations of the House and Senate exploring “new customer service innovations to deliver quality and timely telephone and written correspondence service to taxpayers.” TAS looks forward to seeing this plan and offers our assistance in identifying ways to meet private-sector standards for customer service.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A



Incorporate qualitative measures, such as First Contact Resolution rate, used by other government agencies and in the private sector to measure a caller’s overall experience and satisfaction with a call.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​​The IRS will continue to monitor and track several customer-focused measures such as LOS, average speed of answer, accuracy of responses to customers, and overall customer satisfaction. The IRS telephone assistors are trained to make every attempt to identify and resolve all taxpayer issues during a call. Based on the current training model, recent customer accuracy, and customer satisfaction survey results, our assistors are providing America’s taxpayers with top quality service by providing accurate and complete responses to their inquiries.

The IRS has evaluated the possibility of using a First Contact Resolution metric and found that comprehensive data is not available to support a determination for whether a single contact resulted in a complete response, which would result in inaccurate reporting. In order to anecdotally track case resolution, additional questions were added to the customer satisfaction surveys to ask customers if their issue was resolved during the contact. These questions include:

1) Including today, how many times have you called about this particular issue?
2) Did the IRS representative answer all your questions today?
3) Will the information you received today eliminate the need for further calls on this issue?


TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate commends the IRS for incorporating additional resolution-based questions into its customer satisfaction survey, but remains concerned about the limitations of these surveys described in the comments above. The IRS should incorporate these types of questions directly into the call to better engage with the taxpayers and track the results. Questions like the three described in the IRS’s response could also be used to track First Contact Measure, a standard measure in the private sector. To fulfill the IRS’s assertion that taxpayers should “expect the same level of service when dealing with the IRS in the future as they have now from their financial institution or a retailer,” the IRS should use the measures that are common in the private sector to evaluate its performance.

The IRS should focus more on linking quality metrics to specific initiatives and using these metrics to influence key organizational decisions. As a part of the CAP goal to improve customer experience with federal services, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), developed a strategy to monitor the customer experience using a dashboard of key metrics. OMB recommends including sub-indicators assessing program quality using the customer experience drivers of ease, effectiveness, and emotion. Forrester’s Federal Customer Experience Index, which evaluated agency performance based off of these three factors, shows that the IRS’s performance in providing a high-quality customer experience is not “top quality” but actually “very poor.” Furthermore, the IRS should follow the example of other federal agencies, like the General Services Administration, and create the position of a Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer to oversee a team of employees committed to monitoring and improving the taxpayer experience over all communication channels.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A



Provide telephone assistors additional issue-focused training to help resolve a caller’s inquiry directly in as few steps as possible.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​We agree with this recommendation. Each year, the IRS executes a well-developed telephone training plan focused on providing our employees with the most current information and ensuring we are able to respond to taxpayers in the most effective and efficient manner. This training addresses tax law, account, and procedural inquiries. For example, during the first quarter of FY 2018, the Accounts Management organization trained approximately 2,300 new hire seasonal Customer Service Representatives (CSR) and Tax Examiners. These newly hired employees received Critical Filing Season Readiness Training (CFSRT), while permanent employees received skill progression training to prepare them for filing season assignments. Returning seasonal employees received CFSRT and applicable skill progression training when they returned to duty in January 2018. The IRS develops and provides just-in-time, issue-focused training when new or unplanned issues arise. Updated training material is developed and delivered as needed. We also ensure our field offices are engaged in the training process by regularly convening field subject matter experts to develop and update training material and tools. To supplement formal training, we use workshops and team meetings to communicate policy and procedure updates, computer system changes, Service Electronic Research Program alerts, and IRM revisions. Customer accuracy and customer satisfaction metrics reflect our training effectiveness and are cited in the narrative response above. Similar to Accounts Management employees, Small Business/Self-Employed Division telephone assistors, who are responsible for the collection calls, are trained on their designated program(s) and attend yearly issue-focused Continuing Professional Education. For issues beyond their program scope, assistors are trained on alternative options for service. The IRS uses employee driven teams to provide telephone assistors additional focused training to help resolve a caller’s inquiry directly, in as few steps as possible, by improving organizational effectiveness, strengthening employee engagement, and capturing and using employee feedback. For example, the Campus Collection operation has become more efficient by streamlining procedures and standardizing processes in the Automated Collections System organization, thus reducing case resolution time. This approach enables efficient use of available resources across several Campus Collection programs. There has been a significant reduction in redundant and duplicative efforts and improvement in customer services to taxpayers and employee capabilities and opportunities. The IRS has initiated a request to enhance call routing to directly route calls to the correct assistor within compliance functions.


TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is pleased that the IRS agrees issue-focused training is a priority and appreciates the effort the IRS has made thus far to provide such training. However, the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey show that the current efforts made by the IRS are inadequate, which can hurt taxpayer experience over the phone and potentially reduce voluntary compliance. Only 45 percent of CAS employees were satisfied that their training needs were being adequately assessed. Just 33 percent of CAS employees felt a feeling of personal empowerment with their work. As employee empowerment is critical for improving taxpayer satisfaction, the IRS should work to engage its employees by communicating with them to identify their training needs and other ways to improve its taxpayer services. In addition to the training programs described above, the CAS managers should provide more immediate guidance to telephone assistors based off of specific interactions on a call with a taxpayer to help the telephone assistor identify ways to improve performance.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A



Upgrade phone hardware technology to provide virtual hold and scheduled callback options to callers.


​The IRS has requested funding to implement the virtual hold technology; however, this request is assessed along with all other agency needs and at this time has not been funded. We plan to implement the recommendation if resources and funding are available. We have pursued funding for customer callback technology since 2012, and the initiative is among our FY 2019 funding requests.

Update: In FY 2019, we implemented customer callback technology on a balance due toll-free application. This was highlighted in our annual “Key Insights Report” addressing our performance implementing year 1 of the IRS Integrated Modernization Business Plan. Additionally, we expanded callback technology on an additional four product lines as part of Filing Season 2020 and upgraded the telecom infrastructure to support future live assistance technologies like video and text chat.

Live Assistance: External Application – Balance Due was released in Q2 FY2019, providing a Callback capability on the IRS Toll-Free Balance Due application. Taxpayers now have a callback option when calling the toll-free line to discuss or pay a balance due rather than having to wait on the phone line for an IRS customer service representative to answer their call. When offered, approximately 77 percent of taxpayers chose to receive a call back and over 90 percent of callbacks successfully reconnected the taxpayer to an IRS customer service representative.

Update: FY 2020 – Callback (per IRS monthly Modernization Plan / TFA updates to Treasury Assistant Secretary for Management)

The IRS upgraded the Live Assistance Customer Callback capability. Callback allows taxpayers to hold their place in queue without remaining on the phone. On December 2nd, 2019 the IRS soft launched the Filing Season 2020 Callback capability. In addition to the Balance Due application two Collections and two Accounts Management applications were added for a total of 5 taxpayer-facing applications. During the first week the callback service was offered to over 20,000 taxpayers of which 70% accepted. The Filing Season 2020 capability is now in fully operational.

The toll-free capacity expansion (completed on January 10th, 2020) upgraded the contact center infrastructure and expanded the capacity to support future Live Assistance technologies.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS has requested funding to implement the virtual hold technology; however, this request is assessed along with all other agency needs and at this time has not been funded. We plan to implement the recommendation if resources and funding are available. We have pursued funding for customer callback technology since 2012, and the initiative is among our FY 2019 funding requests.

TAS RESPONSE: We acknowledge the need for additional funding for improved taxpayer services over the phone. However, the National Taxpayer Advocate continues to encourage the IRS to prioritize a callback feature within its existing budget allocation, as this type of service would help free up other resources once it is implemented.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A



Institute a system similar to a 311 system where an operator can transfer a taxpayer to the specific office within the IRS that handles his or her issue or case.


​We continue to provide phone services through a balanced approach to educate and inform each taxpayer as to the variety of service options and channels. All telephone assistors are trained to transfer taxpayers to the appropriate tax law or account area in order to reach an assistor with the required skill sets to handle the inquiry. Taxpayers who receive IRS correspondence are provided a distinct telephone number to call to discuss their issue. On the toll-free lines, to provide customers with efficient and accurate tax law and account assistance, the IRS also uses automation when appropriate to connect a taxpayer with an assistor who has the skill sets to provide the necessary service. At this time, instituting a 311 system is not the best use of our limited funding.

The IRS is also pursuing a modernized Enterprise Case Management (ECM) environment. Building on the precepts of the IRS Future State, the ECM vision specifically highlights the importance of empowering employees to rapidly resolve cases, providing top quality service to taxpayers, and upholding the fair administration of tax law. A modern case management environment will leverage commercial off-the-shelf products to improve the taxpayer’s experience by providing employees with a more complete view of the taxpayer’s relationship with the IRS. As a more efficient and modern ECM solution is developed, the IRS will continue to engage employees and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to provide quality customer service to taxpayers.


TAS RESPONSE: We are pleased that the IRS is modernizing its Enterprise case Management (ECM) environment to gain a more complete view of taxpayers. However, while this may provide assistors with additional information about a taxpayer’s account, it does not directly assist in ensuring taxpayers are directed to the appropriate assistor. Taxpayers should have the option to speak to a live human being in the IRS’s initial call-routing choices. While some taxpayers may know how to navigate the IRS’s menu, having the option to speak to an operator would assist those that do not know where to go. Having an operator available would help to prevent IRS telephone assistors wasting time answering misdirected calls and would also reduce the amount of time taxpayers have to take out of their busy schedules to get assistance from the IRS. It would also be a way to gather data about taxpayer needs that the IRS currently does not track.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A



Reinstate the capability for taxpayers to receive year-round tax law assistance over the telephone, including a second-tier of assistance for more complex tax law issues.


​The IRS provides guidance to taxpayers through a variety of channels year-round. Tax law assistance is provided on the telephone year-round for a number of subject areas including Affordable Care Act, International, TEGE, BMF (Employment Tax), and Special Services (Disaster, Combat Zone, etc.). Tax law inquiries that are within the scope of our TACs and telephone assistors are answered from January through mid-April; additionally, such inquiries are answered all year if the question is related to the resolution of an account inquiry.

Taxpayers can also find tax law information 24 hours per day, seven days per week at IRS.gov. Through IRS.gov, taxpayers have access to numerous Publications, Tax Topics, Frequently Asked Questions and Tax Trails. Through the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA), taxpayers can easily access various self-service options. The ITA is a very heavily used tool; therefore, our goal is to annually increase the number of available ITA topics on IRS.gov to assist taxpayers with their tax law questions.

Currently, there are 44 topics covered and usage for FY 2017 of the ITA tool was over 1.8 million. We also intend to assist taxpayers, year-round, with the recent tax reform legislation. We are still determining how we will deliver that assistance.


TAS RESPONSE: The IRS continues to ignore the fact that 46 percent of taxpayers calling on the phone have already checked its online resources and still need assistance. Constraining the scope of types of questions telephone assistors can answer or directing taxpayers back to online resources fails to meet the needs of taxpayers and can leave them with their questions unanswered. The National Taxpayer Advocate remains concerned about the limitations in telephone assistors’ ability to answer questions related to the new tax law, as initial testing performed by TAS has shown that telephone assistors were unable to answer the questions or provided incorrect information.2 Moreover, the IRS’s response fails to commit to maintaining a tax reform assistance line year-round; therefore, it has not adopted our recommendation.


OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A

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