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MSP #1: CUSTOMER SERVICE STRATEGY

The IRS Needs to Develop a Comprehensive Customer Service Strategy That Puts Taxpayers First, Incorporates Research on Customer Needs and Preferences, and Focuses on Measurable Results

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses

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1.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-1

Ensure that each taxpayer segment and BOD are part of the overall customer service strategy to ensure the IRS is addressing the needs of all customers and responsibility is not falling on any one part of the IRS.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: As required by the TFA, the IRS is currently developing a comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy that encompasses all IRS business operating divisions and taxpayer segments, as well as other stakeholders. With this comprehensive strategy, the IRS strives to:
• Understand, inform, and educate our diverse taxpayer base by providing clear and timely communications and building partnerships
• Provide a seamless taxpayer experience by enhancing self-service and Adopted-service capabilities, expanding access to the IRS, and simplifying the tax process and
• Empower our workforce to provide exceptional service.

This December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: This December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS’s efforts to date have been encouraging. Under this comprehensive strategy, TAS expects that each Business Operating Division (BOD) will consider the application of the overarching strategy to its taxpayer populations and design a specific plan for taxpayers’ needs during those interactions. The IRS can only provide a seamless taxpayer experience when all parts of the organization work in concert.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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2.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-2

Appoint a Chief Customer Experience Officer, reporting to the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner, to unify all taxpayer initiatives across different functions.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The IRS understands the importance of an integrated, agency-wide approach to taxpayer service. Development of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy includes assessing various options to manage and oversee its delivery throughout the IRS. While our objective is to unify taxpayer experience initiatives across all IRS functions, we are still evaluating how best to achieve this goal.

As previously noted, in December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: In December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS would benefit from having a Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCEO) who serves as a liaison to coordinate all service initiatives and strategies across different functions of the IRS. A CCEO would ensure that IRS senior leadership consider decisions through the lens of the taxpayers’ experience.   We continue   to recommend the IRS consider implementing this recommendation in full in the future.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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3.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-3

Work with NIST to determine how to make e-authentication requirements as least burdensome as possible and review the e-authentication methods used by other international taxing authorities.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The IRS is working with NIST to make e-authentication requirements as least burdensome as possible while retaining effectiveness. We are also exploring other effective e-authentication methods including those used by international taxing authorities.

The IRS established the Secure Access Digital Identity (SADI) initiative to satisfy current NIST guidelines. The SADI initiative maintains a “security first” approach, which enhances the user experience by providing a high-availability platform that meets Federal compliance requirements coupled with the level of authentication for the access needed.

We are committed to continual learning and assessment to achieve secure digital communications that are effective but not overly burdensome. For example, the IRS explores authentication opportunities by using innovation studies to:
implement new and innovative ideas in a safe and well-defined environment
• learn about new technologies and practices
• improve upon current authentication, authorization, and access processes and
• evaluate products and offerings from outside vendors.

Additionally, we recently met with Canadian and Australian tax officials to share best practices and hosted the leader of the International Association of Privacy Professionals to gain insight into the global privacy community. We believe these efforts are vitally important to identifying global privacy and authentication opportunities and risks.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: TAS welcomes the IRS implementation of the best practices it has gathered. One of the most important  parts of an effective comprehensive taxpayer service strategy is enabling both taxpayers and practitioners  to interact digitally with the IRS. The ability for digital communication with taxpayers and representatives was heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact to IRS operations. We continue to recommend the IRS work toward providing this means of communication with taxpayers in a safe and well-defined environment.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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4.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-4

Conduct research into why taxpayers and practitioners do not use certain service channels for particular tasks to enable the IRS to minimize any existing barriers and improve services in that area.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The IRS strives to provide outstanding customer service through an omni-channel approach consisting of internet capabilities, correspondence, telephone, and face-to-face interactions. The annual Wage & Investment Division (W&I) Taxpayer Experience Survey provides information about why taxpayers opt to use certain service channels and the specific tasks they like to perform on each channel. Based on a statistically-valid sample, findings from the 2019 Taxpayer Experience Survey reveal that taxpayers choose to go to IRS.gov before other sources for convenience. Taxpayers also view the IRS toll-free line as a convenient source for the most reliable information. Additionally, the IRS selects toll-free call transcripts for review based on key word searches to identify problem areas and emerging issues.

Leveraging work done previously by our Research, Applied Analytics, and Statistics (RAAS) and Online Services (OLS) business units and W&I, the IRS conducted extensive research to develop the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy mandated by the TFA. This research includes a review of recommendations and reports issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the National Taxpayer Advocate’s annual reports to Congress. For additional information, the TFA Office conducted extensive outreach, as described above.

With the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, the IRS strives to expand taxpayers’ access to service— particularly for underserved taxpayers, such as taxpayers with limited English proficiency. The IRS is committed to continuing to conduct research to better understand and evaluate taxpayers’ needs.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: Leveraging existing research to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy makes a lot of sense and is laudable.   It is important for the IRS to better understand why taxpayers or their representatives     do not use certain service channels for particular tasks so that the IRS can minimize existing barriers and improve services for those tasks.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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5.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-5

Establish a 311-type phone system to provide the taxpayer or practitioner the option to connect with an initial operator who would ask questions to understand the reason for the call. The operator would then match the caller with the specific office within the IRS that handles that particular issue or case.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Development of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy includes assessing various options to improve telephone service. While our objective is to provide a seamless taxpayer experience across all aspects of tax administration, we are still evaluating how best to achieve this goal.

As previously noted, in December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: This December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA

Update: TFAO submitted the Report to Congress (RTC) in January 2021 detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign strategy, and training strategy. A new Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer has been selected to lead the Taxpayer Experience Office, which will be responsible for implementing improvement processes.

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS response suggests that it is still considering whether to adopt a 311 system. TAS continues to believe that a 311 system, or one similar, would facilitate increased efficiencies, decrease wait times,      and improve interactions between taxpayers and appropriate IRS personnel. This type of a system, if Adoptedy implemented, would fit well within the IRS’s comprehensive omnichannel strategy.

TAS is monitoring this recommendation. We will check on it again in January 2023.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open):  1/31/2023

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6.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-6

Conduct research into why a significant number of customers who call the various IRS phone lines hang up either before or after they are placed in a queue for a particular phone line (primary and secondary abandonments).

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: While the IRS can monitor the volumes of calls that disconnect immediately, we currently have no way to solicit feedback from taxpayers who call the IRS but hang up prior to being placed in a queue for assistance (referred to as a “primary abandon”). IRS toll-free channels use an interactive voice response methodology that requires the taxpayer to connect to an assistor prior to being invited to participate in the customer satisfaction survey.

In the past, the IRS performed studies to identify patterns in “secondary abandons,” i.e., when a taxpayer hangs up after making a selection from the telephone menu options and being placed in queue for assistance. Data points to identify potential abandon patterns have included prominence on certain applications, days of the week, time of day, auto-dialers, and patterns by individuals or practitioners. We used this data to determine the effect of messaging on the toll-free lines, including the addition of wait time estimates on certain lines. Through these studies, the IRS determined that taxpayers have different tolerances depending on the telephone lines dialed and the type of issue in question. The IRS uses this information to strategically play messages that inform callers of available services, such as those on IRS.gov and automated services like “Where’s My Refund?”.

As mentioned above, with the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, the IRS expects to further facilitate taxpayers’ access to services. The IRS is committed to continuing to conduct research to better understand and evaluate taxpayers’ needs.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS’s response indicates that studies of secondary abandons have determined that taxpayers have different tolerances depending on the telephone lines dialed and the type of issue they are calling about. TAS continues to believe that expanding these types of studies will help the IRS to better understand taxpayer preferences and how to improve service. In addition, TAS agrees with the IRS that expanding the use of callback technology will improve service. This capability may assist in significantly reducing the number of primary and secondary abandons and in providing a more seamless taxpayer experience.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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7.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-7

Work with TAS to create a Taxpayer Anxiety Index.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The IRS currently assesses the taxpayer experience using functional, point of transaction surveys (e.g., automated surveys on the toll-free channel and Field Assistance Comment Card Surveys), following issue resolution (e.g., Injured Spouse Customer Satisfaction surveys, the Appeals Customer Satisfaction Survey, etc.), and at the end of filing season (e.g., W&I Taxpayer Experience Survey). Taken together, these surveys provide a range of information about the taxpayer experience, including feelings about the IRS, elements of satisfaction, and potential areas for improvement.

Given that different individuals may respond to similar circumstances in a myriad of ways—many of which are unpredictable or inextricably linked to externalities—it is not feasible to develop a standard measure for “taxpayer anxiety” that accurately reflects aspects of tax administration within IRS control. For example, taxpayer anxiety may result from the taxpayer’s financial circumstances or temperament or from tax law complexity.

The IRS is committed to developing effective and meaningful measures by which to evaluate taxpayer service and to conducting ongoing research to better understand taxpayers’ needs as part of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy required by the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: TAS agrees that the IRS must develop feasible, effective, and meaningful measures to help guide its decisions about how to interact with taxpayers. In deciding how to interact with taxpayers, the IRS should consider that forcing taxpayers into digital services for transactions associated with high anxiety levels, without providing for more personal services, is unlikely to satisfy them. TAS will continue to evaluate the best method to measure and identify the types of interactions that require more personal services to help the IRS better understand taxpayers’ needs.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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8.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-8

Track the subject of taxpayer and practitioner complaints for each service channel to better understand the customer’s satisfaction with actual usage of each service channel.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Currently, overall satisfaction with IRS service channels is captured in the individual surveys administered by various IRS organizations, and more generally in the Taxpayer Experience Survey. The IRS also receives specific taxpayer complaints through Congress, the White House, the IRS Commissioner’s office, the Department of Treasury, the Employee Conduct & Compliance Office, and TIGTA. The IRS tracks and monitors these inquiries, which allows IRS leadership to timely and effectively address issues raised and manage responses.

As outlined in the Internal Revenue Manual, each business operating division has an internal process to handle taxpayer and practitioner complaints in real time. For example, employees are required to provide supervisor contact information to taxpayers upon request and to document interactions with taxpayers in case files for management review. The IRS also uses the Customer Early Warning System (CEWS), a partnership with Accounts Management, Submission Processing, Contact Analytics, and a number of other taxpayer-facing organizations, to identify potential service issue trends and elevate them for response.

We view these mechanisms, along with proactive stakeholder engagement, quality/program reviews, and employee feedback, as effective ways to identify trends in taxpayer concerns. Still, we continue to evaluate the feasibility of other measures and metrics as part of the development of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy required by the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: Under the right to quality service, taxpayers have a right to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service. Although each business operating division has its own internal process to handle taxpayer and practitioner complaints in real time, these efforts are not coordinated nor are they properly studied Servicewide.  The   IRS should conduct an agency-wide systemic review of complaints and responses to enable meaningful oversight of organizational responsiveness. TAS will continue to monitor and verify actions the IRS takes  upon submission of the comprehensive report.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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9.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-9

Develop meaningful and transparent measures to monitor the success of all customer service initiatives, including first contact resolution and more transparent telephone level of service measures.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Development of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy includes identifying meaningful and transparent measures to monitor the strategy’s effectiveness. While our objective is to improve on and standardize existing measures across all IRS functions, we are still evaluating how best to achieve this goal. As noted above, in December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: This December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

TAS RESPONSE: It is crucial that the IRS develop measures that ensure its functions are truly focusing on taxpayer service.   This includes measures such as the rate of first contact resolution for each service channel and better telephone Level of Service (LOS) measures. The IRS should consider revisiting existing telephone LOS measures to improve transparency.  Doing so might enable the IRS to identify gaps in performance  because the current LOS measure does not capture all calls to the IRS and insufficiently gauges what the taxpayer experiences when making a telephone call.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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10.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-10

Coordinate the team developing the Servicewide return preparer strategy to ensure consistency of strategies.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Developing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy is a coordinated, agency-wide process. The IRS is taking a holistic approach to taxpayer service that takes into consideration tax professionals, in their dual roles as customers of IRS services and service providers to their clients (taxpayers).

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS’s efforts to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy seem promising.   It should be   noted that the development of a comprehensive customer service strategy would be incomplete without addressing the service needs and preferences of practitioners and conducting research to determine which service channels practitioners prefer for various service tasks.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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11.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-11

Collaborate with TAS throughout the development of the comprehensive customer service strategy required by the Taxpayer First Act.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Throughout the development of the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, the TFA Office core team has collaborated extensively with all IRS business operating divisions and functions, including TAS. The TFA Office is responsible for coordinating delivery of a comprehensive service strategy based on input from an array of stakeholders, including taxpayers, tax professionals, IRS leadership, oversight organizations, IRS employees, and the National Treasury Employees Union. The TFA Office core team is supported by a small number of subject matter experts, including a senior member of the TAS organization.

In key ways, TAS plays an important role in developing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy. As a member of the senior executive team, the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) sits on the Innovation Advisory Council, a forum created specifically to allow senior executives and the TFA Office core team to have an open dialogue about TFA deliverables on a biweekly basis. Once a month, the core team also briefs senior executives about TFA developments at regularly-scheduled senior executive team meetings. Moreover, the TFAO hosts a biweekly meeting with senior leaders designated as TFA points of contact by each IRS function, including TAS. At these meetings, points of contact discuss significant TFA-related issues.

Outside of these frequent interactions, the TFA Office has taken additional steps to work with TAS to develop the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy. For example, a TFA core team member and the Acting NTA met periodically to collaborate on key aspects of the taxpayer experience strategy. Likewise, for one of its first listening sessions, the TFA core team met with TAS leadership and 78 Local Taxpayer Advocates, who represent taxpayers from across the country. The TFA Office also participated in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) annual conference, sponsored by TAS, and held a TFA round-table discussion with LITC national leadership. Working with the Acting NTA’s staff, the TFA Office held two listening sessions with the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, a group of 75 citizen volunteers who advise the IRS on how to improve our products, services, and customer satisfaction. Furthermore, with other members of the senior executive team, the NTA is a key reviewer of the written report to Congress detailing the three comprehensive strategies.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate welcomes the IRS’s outreach efforts and collaboration with TAS. TAS anticipates continued collaboration with the IRS and stands ready to assist in facilitating the effective implementation of the future TFA comprehensive strategies.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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12.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-12

Couple the customer service strategy with an implementation plan, complete with cost estimates for various initiatives.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: As noted earlier, in December the IRS intends to deliver to Congress a combined report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA. The report will include an implementation plan and cost estimates, with future refinement to be provided in the out-years.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: This December the IRS will submit to Congress a written report detailing the comprehensive taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy developed pursuant to the TFA.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS stands ready to assist the IRS in effectively implementing the taxpayer experience strategy, organizational redesign, and training strategy being developed pursuant to the TFA and is ready to support the IRS with TAS’s expertise acquired through decades of experience in interacting with and assisting taxpayers and their representatives.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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