The IRS’s customer service initiative–in the face of years of budgetary restrictions that have translated into reduced staffing–carries lessons that other federal agencies could apply, according to a report from the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services.
“Agencies across government seek ways to improve customer experience and meet citizens’ increasing expectations for fast, easy and consistent interactions. Yet long-standing agency silos often isolate lines of business from communication teams in federal agencies and departments,” it says in a review of the agency’s program for the 2017 tax filing season.
One strategy the IRS used to counter the silo effect was to have the communications team work early with the business side “to cre¬ate and deploy targeted information campaigns to address those probable questions and help citizens prepare to file their taxes. Collaborating ahead of time in this way helped the IRS make sure taxpayers received consistent, accurate information from all sources, minimizing the confusion and questions that lead more taxpayers to call for assistance,” it said.
The emphasis was to educate the public on how to get information–primarily through online and mobile application resources–without having to resort to calling. One result was that the number of calls dropped to 52 million from 64 million the year before.
Further, IRS employees monitored social media sites, contact centers and field offices “to identify and fix issues before they became major problems.” They also monitored “whether citizens and other stakeholders are repeating the information on social media, thereby amplifying the messages.”
Meanwhile, the agency reached out to stakeholders–including tax preparers and nonprofits that help people prepare their taxes in its case–which “have deep insights into their partic¬ular customers’ needs, and they help the IRS expand its reach. Working with them to keep IRS messages consistent and present them in plain language is another way for the IRS to reduce inquiries to the agency so it has more staff time for assisting with the most difficult cases.”