Most Serious Problem: 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 

The Taxpayer First Act requires the IRS to create and submit a comprehensive customer service strategy to Congress by July 1, 2020. As the IRS develops this strategy, the National Taxpayer Advocate has identified several concerns with the IRS’s current approach to customer service that the new plan should address. Most importantly, the IRS does not currently view itself as a service organization first and foremost. In addition, customer service decisions are not informed by using multi-disciplined, comprehensive research into customer needs and preferences. Forcing some taxpayers to use digital channels undermines taxpayer rights. Moreover, a service strategy would be incomplete if it did not address services to practitioners. Finally, the new strategy should correct the current absence of meaningful customer service measures to effect desired results and it should not be merely aspirational — it needs to include an implementation plan complete with cost estimates. 

The IRS provides service through various communication channels such as the internet, phone, and in-person assistance. Taxpayers and representatives have different preferences for each of these channels and these preferences may vary depending on the specific needs of the taxpayer or the type of task the taxpayer or representative is trying to accomplish. The IRS must base service strategy decisions on research into customer needs, rather than on what the IRS thinks is best and lowest cost. The IRS’s reduction in staff and the number of Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs), the switch to appointments only in the TACs and the low percentage of telephone calls answered by live assistors, leaves taxpayers with little choice but to attempt to complete tax-related tasks on the internet (which often does not resolve the taxpayer’s issue) or to spend money for professional assistance. 

The National Taxpayer Advocate includes both administrative and legislative recommendations to address this Most Serious Problem.

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