The IRS' Customer Service Goal: Don't Answer 30 Percent of Calls

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With its poor reputation, It would take something extraordinary to get people upset about the IRS' lack of service. And here it is.

The IRS doesn't have a very good reputation for customer service or helpfulness. With the bar set so low, it would take something extraordinary to get people to be upset about a lack of service. And here it is: the customer service goal is to answer only 7 out of every 10 calls that come in.The Associated Press is reporting that the agency's goal is to connect 71 percent of callers to a real person, down from 87 percent in 2004. And callers lucky enough to get through will have to wait on hold an average of nearly 12 minutes, according to a report issued to Congress Wednesday by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.

The agency says it is trying to deflect callers to the web for self-service options due to cost and efficiency constraints. It says that it has improved its website and FAQ sections in anticipation of customer questions.

"Resources available to deliver telephone services are finite and staffing allocations must be made in light of competing demands necessary to meet other customer needs and preferences," the IRS said in a written response to the report.

Here is where the IRS derailed in its strategy. Most people just don't pick one way to contact companies anymore. I bet a majority of people who will call into the call center will have already checked online for help before making the call.

I'm all for self-service, but it's not appropriate in all instances. I don't know about you, but I find tax preparation very confusing, and it's even more confusing now as people deal with with tax credits, unemployment filings, and new issues related to the economic downturn and recovery efforts. People want to talk to a human being.

Also, the IRS needs to realize that expectations of customer service have risen dramatically in the last few years. And these expectations on the consumer side have extended now to the government as well. Citizens aren't going to take it anymore. Something like this could "trickle up" to reflect poorly on an overall administration, just like poor customer service reflects poorly on a brand. It might just be a joke now, but it's something all government agencies should take very seriously.

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