For a government agency with such a bad rap in popular culture, the Internal Revenue Service performed well in a recent survey asking taxpayers to comment on customer service levels.In October 2005, the IRS Oversight Board hired Roper Public Affairs to conduct a study of U.S. taxpayers to gain a better understanding of customer service needs and expectations; taxpayers' views of major customer service programs offered by the IRS and preferences for the various IRS service channels; and how the agency could better tailor its services to meet taxpayers' needs.

Among the IRS service channels studied were service by phone, in-person visits to IRS offices, visits to the IRS Web site, e-mail communications and correspondence by mail. The study included 1,000 taxpayer households and a supplemental sample of 101 individuals who had visited an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.

The survey revealed that around 41 percent of households had contacted the IRS at least once within the last two years, with about half either contacting it by telephone or visiting the IRS Web site.

In terms of potential demand for service, the survey found that while nearly two thirds of taxpayers said that they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to contact the IRS for assistance with tax law questions or to obtain forms, only about 40 percent are currently contacting the IRS for assistance.

"This disparity suggests that there could be a difference between the level of service taxpayers prefer and the level of support they currently receive from IRS," the report's executive summary said. The report said that there remains a difference - usually in the 10-to-ž20-percentage-point range - between the rate at which taxpayers expect to resolve a tax issue after just one contact with the agency, and what actually happens.

The report also found, not surprisingly, that taxpayers prefer by a wide margin to receive service from a person, rather than an automated system. However, the survey revealed some encouraging findings when it came to taxpayer willingness to consider less costly online self-service solutions.

The full report is available online at www.treas.gov/irsob/board-reports.shtml.

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