Bob Barr, CGI Federal

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

Start at the beginning

Earlier in this series, I described the demographic dilemma facing tax administrators: five different generations in the tax-paying public, each with its own comfort level with technology.

Serving these generations and engaging with them via easy-to-use channels that leave all of them feeling like they had a positive experience with the agency is the dream of every tax administrator, whether federal, state or local. For that matter, it’s a concern that extends well beyond tax administration. Any government agency that interacts with the public should meet the needs of these demographic groups.

The government just doesn’t have the resources to engage with each individual who has to meet an obligation or needs a service. In tax administration, that has led to the rise of the tax advice and preparation industry. In an ideal world, our tax administrators could provide personalized experiences based upon all the data they could legally compile—who we are demographically, who we are financially (based upon our prior filings and what gets reported each year in various information returns) and what questions we’re likely to ask. Having this information readily available during the tax preparation and filing process would make the whole process so much easier—for payer and tax administrator alike.

As I mentioned in a prior post, roughly 60% of all individual tax returns are prepared by professional tax preparers. For the 40% who prepare and file their own returns, tax administrators need to serve the various demographics. From brick and mortar locations for the oldest taxpayers to all-digital and mobile experiences for the youngest, agencies have to meet a wide range of demands.

Meeting taxpayers needs

Go to the office

Personalizing a brick and mortar experience is probably the most difficult, especially for walk-ins with no appointments. The tax administrator would have no clue why the person is there until they begin sharing. The best one could hope for is some segmentation in service, maybe a self-qualifying kiosk much like those in emerging bank experiences. For visitors with appointments, the experience would much better, as the office would already have the person’s information along with the reason for the visit, ensuring availability of the right resources.

The answer here is having the right talent available in the office when the taxpayer arrives for help (staffing and scheduling), and having access to all your records, communications, prior visits or calls, correspondence simply and holistically—the promise of customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise case management (ECM). Brick and mortar personalization is essentially a staffing and scheduling challenge, along with ensuring a comfortable wait experience.

Use the U.S. mail

You’ve certainly heard the IRS say publicly over and over that the agency will not call you if you have an issue. If you ever get a call claiming to be the IRS and threatening to have you arrested if you don’t pay a certain amount in gift cards, I assure you it’s safe to hang up the phone without a second thought. If you get a letter in the mail, though, pay attention to it. You can transact through the mail, and the IRS uses the mail for much of its business. The problem with this experience is it could take months to resolve any issue or dispute.

Connect to the call center

Call center experiences are random by nature—callers get the agent who is available when their turn comes. The basis for success at a call center is answering the phone quickly, accessing taxpayers’ records quickly and actually, answering their questions. It isn’t as simple as it sounds.

First, the agency needs to ensure enough staff is available—both with adequate training and access to the systems they need to retrieve the taxpayers’ data quickly. They also must be able to verify a caller’s identity. This is the same challenge, in many ways, as the brick and mortar visit, except magnified across millions of calls. As a result, the best way to enhance personalization is augmenting the agency’s infrastructure such that disparate data is more quickly and comprehensively accessible by agency staff in the midst of a call.

Open the online chat

Online chat personalization issues are almost identical to those of a call center—except now, you’re essentially texting back and forth rather than talking. But all the same challenges apply.

Load the self-service website

Finally, we come to the self-service digital experience, which is not always helpful. While your tax administrator’s website probably offers the answers to many common questions, those answers are not always easy to find or to understand. Leery of legal entanglements that might arise from translating regulations into plain language, agencies sometimes just use the language of the regulations—which doesn’t help taxpayers who are not skilled at interpreting legalese.

Taxpayers may be disappointed to discover that the functionality available is not going to rival what they might see when using online banking. What the agency has available is likely housed across multiple systems and databases. Trying to marry this up into a presentable form in a matter of seconds is a herculean feat. Many taxpayers may ultimately have to resort to a phone call or a visit to a local office. So what to do? Well, all tax administrators understand the big picture solution. Fundamentally, they have to upgrade the databases that store taxpayer data, modernize the tax processing systems using this data, put in place a CRM/ECM that can be accessed in real time and enable the best possible experience in each channel.

The ultimate dream: A multi-channel experience

And the ultimate dream? For you and me, and for the tax administrator, that would be you and I moving our conversations from one channel to another with context.

In other words, if I’m online and can’t do what I need to do, I could use the system to transfer me to a call center representative, who would already know what I was trying to do so I wouldn’t have to start all over… Nirvana! Of course, this is only achievable with the right funding, talent and time to deliver it. But, again, given the strategic plan recently released by the IRS (the IRS Inflation Reduction Act Strategic Operating Plan), I’m optimistic for the future.

About this author

Bob Barr, CGI Federal

Bob Barr

Vice-President, Business Engineering

Bob Barr, a former Internal Revenue Service assistant commissioner, provides CGI Federal’s Treasury account team dedicated to the IRS with strategy support and strategic client development planning.