IRS Customer Service Channels Aren't Taxing

The impression of the IRS as year-round Scrooge and overbearing ogre is inaccurate, at least according to a study by Roper Public Affairs that was recently released by the IRS Oversight Board. The report says that 41 percent of respondents contacted the IRS in the past two years, and of those, more than 80 percent ranked the tax enforcement agency's service channels better, or at least the same, as those of other government agencies. The Oversight Board is a nine-member independent body charged to oversee the IRS in its administration, management, conduct, direction, and supervision of the execution and application of the internal revenue laws. Most taxpayers contacted the IRS for help with tax law questions, requesting forms and publications, preparing a tax return, and addressing a tax dispute or error. Twenty-two percent of the taxpayer households indicated that they had telephoned the IRS; three percent said they had visited an IRS office in person; 25 percent said they had visited the IRS Web site; 4 percent said they had sent the IRS an email; and 6 percent said they had sent the IRS a letter in the mail. Taxpayers used different channels to contact the IRS for substantially different reasons. The data also provide additional insight into the degree to which taxpayers self-initiate contact with IRS, versus being prompted by an IRS action. These more detailed results further confirm that taxpayers initiate the majority of contacts with IRS. Virtually all visits to the IRS Web site appear to be self-initiated, according to the study. The top three reasons taxpayers visited the IRS Web site were to secure forms and publications (48 percent); receive help with a tax law question (17 percent) and get assistance in preparing a return (6 percent). Only about 2 percent indicated IRS-induced reasons, such as a tax dispute or error. About two-thirds of the respondents were "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to contact the IRS for assistance if they needed help with tax law questions or to obtain forms. Around 50 percent indicated they would contact IRS for help in preparing a return. Currently, only around 40 percent of taxpayers contact the IRS for assistance, some of whom do so in response to prior interactions with the IRS. 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 the IRS, according to the Oversight Board, which sees IRS customer service as a work in progress, and recommends that the agency continue to develop new customer service prospects. More specifically, according to Roper, more advanced and robust online service offerings would help taxpayers who fall into the survey's "confident and in control" and "tech adopters" categories. Related articles: IRS Site Pays Users With Satisfaction
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