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.

Commissioned 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 the agency by telephone, or visiting the IRS Web site. The four most common reasons taxpayers gave for contacting the IRS were either for help with tax law questions, to request forms and publications, for assistance with preparing a tax return, and finally, to report a tax dispute or error.In terms of potential demand for IRS customer service, the survey found that while nearly two-thirds of taxpayers say there are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to contact the agency for assistance with tax law questions or to obtain forms, only about 40 percent of taxpayers are currently contacting the IRS for assistance.

“Getting behind the numbers, 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 says. The report said that there remains a difference -- usually in the 10- to 20-percentage point range -- between the rate at which taxpayers expect to resolve a tax issue after just one contact with the agency, as opposed to what actually happens.

The report also found, not surprisingly, that taxpayers prefer to receive service from a person, rather than an automated system, by a wide margin. However, the survey revealed some encouraging findings when it came to taxpayer willingness to consider less costly online, self-service solutions, and Roper broke the IRS audience into six market segments -- noting that the agency had to develop new customer service products and strategies that better target the unique groups of taxpayers with similar needs.

The full report is available at www.treas.gov/irsob/reports/2006_channel_survey_report.pdf.

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