The Internal Revenue Service rolled out software in 2009 to improve customer service for taxpayers, and while it has led to some improvements, many employees are still unfamiliar with how to use it.

A new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration noted that the IRS started using Contact Analytics software to analyze recorded taxpayer phone calls to find ways to improve customer service and reduce taxpayer service costs. From October 2011 through December 2014, the IRS also rolled out its Hear Me Process to front-line employees so they could identify emerging taxpayer service issues. The IRS can then use the Contact Analytics software to research the issues and provide more cost-effective services to improve taxpayers’ experiences.

TIGTA’s report found the use of Contact Analytics is actually helping the IRS identify customer service issues and concerns. However, not all front-line employees are aware of the Hear Me Process or how to use it. TIGTA interviewed two dozen customer service representatives and found that 17 of them (that is, 71 percent) did not have enough knowledge of the Hear Me Process, including how to submit a taxpayer service issue. TIGTA also found the IRS needs to improve its processes for requesting and reviewing the research results, as the documentation was lacking for many of the requests.

“Business results and feedback are essential elements in documenting the value of Contact Analytics and measuring its effectiveness,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “The IRS can identify emerging issues that can improve the taxpayer experience by providing alternative and more cost-effective services.”

The IRS agreed with all four of TIGTA’s recommendations and plans to develop training and revise procedures related to obtaining and maintaining feedback on the value of Contact Analytics research.

In response to the report, Debra Holland, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, pointed to some of the successes of the Contact Analytics system. During the 2016 filing season, for example, IRS assistors heard reports from some taxpayers that some financial institutions would not cash their tax refund checks. In February 2016, the Contact Analytics staff analyzed the issue and discovered that some check-cashing locations were unable to validate the paper refund checks. “Because of our analysis, solutions were implemented to help our Customer Service Representatives provide accurate and consistent information when assisting taxpayers with this problem while we resolved the validation issue with the Bureau of the Fiscal Service,” she wrote.

The Hear Me process has also had its share of successes this past tax season, Holland pointed out. “In 2016, CSRs used the Hear Me process to make management aware of systemic issues, which we were able to quickly address and correct, as well as common errors present on filed tax returns, for which we were able to issue prompt guidance to the employees resolving the errors and communicating with taxpayers,” she wrote. “By using Contact Analytics, we were able to identify apparent root causes and share that information with the appropriate responsible areas.”

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