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4 Things You Can Learn About Customer Support From the IRS

Let’s face it, the IRS is no one’s favorite government agency. No one. And let’s face another reality: it’s because no one likes to pay their taxes. Despite these two things, there’s a lot we can learn from the IRS that actually has nothing to do with taxes.

In 2015, the IRS was handed two pieces of bad news:

  1. They were going to face another round of budget cuts.
  2. Despite budget cuts, the agency would still be responsible for ensuring Affordable Care Act Compliance.

Less resources. More responsibility. What to do?

For the IRS, budget cuts mean less staff and slower service (or no service at all) on the taxpayer side. In fact, from 2011-2015, the personnel reductions have resulted in a 25% drop in taxpayer phone calls answered by IRS Automated Collection Service workers. That’s right, the IRS has been dealing with yearly budget cuts since 2010. From a support perspective, this blow to an important part of their organization is huge!

There are millions of taxpayers who need assistance. Taxpayers who received automated letters from the IRS and are concerned or unsure about the next course of action, taxpayers who have questions and don’t have the means to pay a tax preparer, taxpayers who are confused about the ACA (Affordable Care Act), taxpayers who have been victims of tax return fraud, etc.

The IRS hasn’t just shrugged their shoulders and accepted the lack of resources. They’ve made some serious changes to how they help taxpayers that we can all learn from.


Bolster Your Help Center

Have you been to the IRS website lately? It’s basically a giant Help Center. All of the questions you could ever imagine live on their database – with answers! Over the past couple of years, the IRS website has been tweaked to ensure that taxpayers find the answers they are looking for. The home page presents you with an array of options that make finding the help you need easy. There’s even a tool called the Interactive Tax Assistant, a tax law resource that takes you through a series of questions and provides you with responses to tax law questions.

One of the best ways to reduce the volume of support calls or tickets is to ensure that have a Help Center that is robust and easy to use. Most people hate picking up the phone and would rather trouble shoot their problems by researching them first.


Proactive Communication

The IRS has significantly increased the amount of communication they put out into the world. Not only do they release a ton of information to the press in hopes of getting info out to taxpayers and tax professionals, they have a number of newsletter options you can sign-up for.

The IRS communicates very regularly through email. Whether it’s reminders about deadlines, important updates, or tips on being compliant, the IRS is not short on emails. They even have email options for tax professionals that give prompts and info on what they should be communicating to their clients.

In addition to news releases and emails, the IRS has significantly increased their presence on social media. The IRS is on Twitter, YouTube, and even Tumblr! While they don’t offer customer service through these channels due to privacy and legal concerns, their YouTube channel is most impressive. The channel is a treasure trove of information that is neatly categorized. From How-to videos to scam alerts, they’ve been using YouTube proactively to answer some of the most common taxpayer questions.


Know Your Support Issues

While there is likely an unbelievable amount of questions and issues a taxpayer or tax preparer may have reason to call or email the IRS for, the IRS knows which questions are at the top of the list. They don’t just have an FAQ page up for those questions, they have a slew of resources that cover those topics. For example:

When will I get my refund? Boom! The IRS has an app called IRS2Go that you can use to check the status of your refund 24/7. There’s also a website called Where’s My Refund?, a series of newsletters that explain how to check your refund status, and a YouTube video.

What’s the deal with the Affordable Care Act? Boom. There’s an entire website devoted to information about compliance and how it affects your tax returns, there’s a newsletter series for taxpayers and tax preparers, and a YouTube playlist.

Do you know the most common questions and issues in your organization? Do you have multiple means for your customers to find the answers they are looking for? Maybe you should.


Be Like the IRS. Don’t Be Like the Government

There’s one thing we want to make clear. Cutting your support budget and running on bare bones is not a best practice. No matter how robust your help center or other options are, there’s no replacing trouble shooting with a real person. Great support is of value to consumers today and when they don’t get it, they’ll turn someone else. The stats are there:

  • 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly.
  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.

However, bolstering your help center, being proactive about communication, and knowing your most common support issues are best practices. Offering great customer service or customer support is more than just having bodies to answer emails and/or phone calls. It’s about knowing what your customers need and offering effortless solutions when they have an issue.

Also published on Medium.

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