TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION

 

Taxpayers Continued to Experience Improved Access to Toll-Free Telephone Service During the 2005 Filing Season

 

 

 

September 2005

 

Reference Number:  2005-40-155

 

 

This report has cleared the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration disclosure review process and information determined to be restricted from public release has been redacted from this document.

 

 

Web Site           |  http://www.tigta.gov

 

September 21, 2005

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

FROM:                            Pamela J. Gardiner /s/ Pamela J. Gardiner

                                         Deputy Inspector General for Audit

 

SUBJECT:                    Final Audit Report – Taxpayers Continued to Experience Improved Access to Toll-Free Telephone Service During the 2005 Filing Season (Audit # 200540011)

This report presents the results of our review to evaluate the customer service toll-free telephone access during the 2005 Filing Season.[1]  We performed this audit as part of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s annual reviews of the performance of key customer service programs.

Synopsis

Each year, millions of taxpayers contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seeking assistance in understanding the tax law and meeting their tax obligations by calling the various Customer Account Services (CAS) toll-free telephone assistance lines.[2]  During the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS staffed 10,614 Customer Service Representatives at 26 call centers located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, provided taxpayers with effective access to its toll-free telephone system, and realized productivity and efficiency gains.  Specifically, the IRS planned and met the 82 percent Customer Service Representative Level of Service goal for the 2005 Filing Season.  Level of Service is the primary measure of providing taxpayers with access to a live assistor and has been consistent over the last three filing seasons.

In preparation for the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS planned for 38.8 million taxpayer calls.  This represented a 21.8 percent decrease from the 2004 Filing Season and was based on historical data and workplan assumptions.  For the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS achieved 105 percent of its planned assistor services and 90 percent of its planned automated services.  We believe the IRS did not achieve the planned services for automated calls because of the increase in taxpayers’ use of the IRS Internet web site to check the status of their refunds.

Assistors answered 14.8 million calls, or 4 percent more calls than planned, using 95 percent of the planned resources.  In addition, assistors answered more calls per Full Time Equivalent[3] than in the 2004 Filing Season.  One factor that contributed to this increase is the Assistor Availability, which measures the amount of time assistors are idle or available to answer calls.  When Assistor Availability is low, assistors’ time is being productively used and the cost of providing toll-free telephone services decreases.  Compared to the 2004 Filing Season, the Assistor Availability rate decreased 42 percent.

For the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS experienced 1.5 million (22 percent) fewer primary abandons compared to the 2004 Filing Season.  Primary abandons may occur when taxpayers:  (1) realize they dialed the wrong number and immediately disconnect, (2) disconnect before completing an automated routing script, or (3) choose a menu option to use an automated service but disconnect before completing the service.  Primary abandons can lead to taxpayers having to call back or possibly not receiving assistance at all because they find the toll-free telephone system difficult to use. 

During Fiscal Year 2005, the IRS implemented a new initiative, the Internet Service Node, to improve taxpayer access to the toll-free telephone assistance lines and help identify and correct high primary abandons.  With the implementation of the Internet Service Node, the IRS now has detailed data about where and when taxpayers abandon calls.  In the past, the IRS did not have any data on the taxpayers’ experience when navigating through the automated menu (i.e., the IRS could not determine where taxpayers disconnected).  By analyzing these data, the IRS has information about taxpayer behavior while using the automated menu and can begin to determine why the taxpayers disconnected.  Furthermore, changes to the automated menu, which in the past could take months, can now be completed internally within days.

While the IRS did achieve its Level of Service goal, several performance measures declined during the 2005 Filing Season.  For 4.3 million tax law and 9.3 million account-related assistor answered calls, the percentage of taxpayers that received services within 30 seconds (Assistor Response Level) decreased and the average number of seconds taxpayers waited in the queue before receiving services (Average Speed of Answer) increased.  In addition, the Secondary Abandon Rate (in which a taxpayer navigated the automated menu and then disconnected while waiting to speak to an assistor) increased from the 2004 Filing Season.

Recommendations

The primary focus of this audit was to monitor and report the IRS’ toll-free telephone system performance during the 2005 Filing Season.  As a result, we are making no recommendations in this report.

Response

IRS management agreed with our assessment of the toll-free telephone service during the 2005 Filing Season and was pleased with our recognition of their positive efforts.  Management’s complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix V.

Copies of this report are also being sent to the IRS managers affected by the report results.  Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or Michael R. Phillips, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Wage and Investment Income Programs), at (202) 927-0597.

 

 

Attachment

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Background

Results of Review

Improvements in Accessing the Toll-Free Telephone Service Continued in the 2005 Filing Season

Appendices

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV – Customer Account Services Toll-Free Telephone Service Individual Product Lines for the 2004 and 2005 Filing Seasons

Appendix V – Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

 

Background

 

Each year, millions of taxpayers contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seeking assistance in understanding the tax law and meeting their tax obligations by calling the various toll-free telephone assistance lines, accessing the IRS Internet web site (IRS.gov), or visiting an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.  Although accessing IRS.gov is the single most frequent means of contacting the IRS for taxpayers, the second most frequent means is calling the toll‑free telephone assistance lines. 

Taxpayers called the IRS Customer Account Services (CAS) Toll-Free telephone assistance lines approximately 41.8 million times[4] during the 2005 Filing Season.[5]  Of these, 16.8 million were made to the toll-free telephone number, 1-800-829-1040, the telephone number taxpayers call to ask tax law or account-related questions.  In addition, over 9.4 million calls were made to the IRS automated TeleTax system[6] that provides recorded tax law and refund information.  Figure 1 shows the number of calls made to the CAS Toll-Free telephone assistance lines and the 14.8 million calls answered during the 2005 Filing Season.

Figure 1:  IRS Handled Calls for the 2005 Filing Season

Figure 1 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 1, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

Taxpayers that call the IRS can receive automated services or choose to speak to a live assistor, called a Customer Service Representative.  For taxpayers using a touchtone telephone, the automated services Telephone Routing Interactive System uses recorded information and interactive applications to provide automated refund status information, permit taxpayers to obtain a payoff amount for an outstanding balance due, or enable taxpayers to set up an installment agreement to settle a delinquent tax debt.  For example, when calling 1-800-829-1040 with a tax law or account-related question, the taxpayer is provided, in English or Spanish, four touchtone main automated menu options with secondary options:

1.   Preparing or filing individual income tax returns.  This option provides the taxpayer with a second automated menu from which to choose the following options:  (a) ordering tax forms or publications, (b) finding addresses to mail tax returns or payments to the IRS or (c) getting help with other tax questions.

2.   Requesting information on a tax refund or personal tax account.  This option provides the taxpayer with a second automated menu from which to choose the following options:  (a) questions concerning a refund or (b) questions concerning a personal account.

3.   Using the business and specialty tax line or obtaining the address for the IRS Internet web site.

4.   Repeating the above options.

If the taxpayer does not select an option or is calling from a rotary telephone and is unable to select a touchtone option, the same script is repeated providing voice response options.  If the taxpayer selects an invalid option, he or she is transferred to an IRS employee (screener), who screens and transfers the call to the appropriate assistor to answer the taxpayer’s question.

Assistors are trained and certified for each current filing season on specific applications.[7]  Assistors answer taxpayer questions involving tax law and other related tax account conditions such as refunds, balance due billing activity, and changes to the amount of taxes owed.  For example, if an individual taxpayer calls to find out where to mail a tax return, the call would be routed to an assistor who has been trained to handle IRS procedural issues for individual taxpayers.  If a business taxpayer calls to find out the taxes due on a business account, the call would be routed to an assistor who handles balance-due questions for the business taxpayer.

During the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS staffed 10,614 assistors to answer the telephones at 26 call centers[8] located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.  The Director, CAS, in the Wage and Investment Division manages tax law and account telephone calls for Customer Account Services through the Joint Operations Center.  Figure 5 on page 8 shows the percentage of calls handled during the 2005 Filing Season. 

The Joint Operations Center serves as the central control organization for all of the IRS’ toll-free telephone call routing.  It uses intelligent call management software to control and route calls to call centers and assistors who have the skills and are available to answer the calls.  In addition, it monitors the call centers for abnormally high queue (wait) times and/or number of assistors that are idle or available to answer calls.  When this occurs, actions are taken to modify routing scripts and balance the workload and associated staffing.

The Joint Operations Center has the ability to trace one call from the time it is received to the time the call is terminated but does not do so because of the large volume of calls the IRS receives.  The IRS does, however, monitor key segments in the life of a call.  For example, from the time the call was answered by a screener to when it was transferred to an assistor, or from the time the call was answered by an assistor to the time the taxpayer was transferred or the call ended.  The IRS believes this provides indications of the type of service the average taxpayer receives.

Providing quality customer service operations was one of the major management challenges the IRS faced during the 2005 Filing Season.  One of the IRS’ major strategies for Fiscal Year 2005 is to reduce taxpayer burden by improving the quality and efficiency of service delivery.  The goal is to provide prompt and courteous responses to all requests for assistance.  To ensure a successful filing season, the Director, Accounts Management, annually certifies that all elements of the filing season certification document are incorporated into the overall planning process and that all items will be monitored for progress and timely delivery.

According to the IRS Strategic Plan 2005–2009, the IRS measures success in improving taxpayer service by the:

·         Assistor Level of Service – The relative success rate of taxpayers calling for assistance and seeking services from an assistor.  Part of the calculation of results for this measure includes the percentage of call attempts made by taxpayers compared to the number of calls answered by the IRS.

·         Timeliness of Responding to Customer Inquiries – Measurements of the time taxpayers wait on the telephone when calling the IRS about their accounts or inquiring about tax laws when preparing tax returns; the time from account creation to disposition for taxpayers needing account resolution assistance; and the response time for those taxpayers who communicate electronically with the IRS.

This review was performed at the Joint Operations Center in Atlanta, Georgia, during the period January through June 2005.  The audit was performed in accordance with Government Auditing Standards.  The scope of this audit did not include the quality of toll-free telephone services.  The performance data we evaluated were provided by IRS management information systems.  We did not verify the accuracy of these data.  Detailed information on our audit objective, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I.  Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.

 

 

Results of Review

 

Improvements in Accessing the Toll-Free Telephone Service Continued in the 2005 Filing Season

 

During the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS provided taxpayers with effective access to its toll-free telephone system and realized productivity and efficiency gains.  This effective performance was evident in many of the measures the IRS uses to monitor its call center operations.  Specifically, the IRS planned and met the 82 percent Customer Service Representative Level of Service goal for the 2005 Filing Season.  Level of Service is the IRS’ primary measure of providing taxpayers with access to a live assistor.  Figure 2 shows the Level of Service for the last four filing seasons, during which the Level of Service achieved has been consistent over the last three filing seasons.

Figure 2:  Comparison of the Level of Service for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons

Figure 2 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 2, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

Customer satisfaction surveys continue to show positive results.  However, taxpayers experienced an increase in the number of blocked calls.  A blocked call is one that cannot be connected immediately because either no circuit is available at the time the call arrives (i.e., the taxpayer receives a busy signal) or the system is programmed to block calls from entering the queue when the queue backs up beyond a defined threshold (i.e., the taxpayer receives a recorded announcement to call back at a later time).  The IRS refers to the latter type of blocked call as a courtesy disconnect.  Figure 3 shows the number of blocked calls for the last four filing seasons.

Figure 3:  Comparison of Number of Blocked Calls
 for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons
[9]

CAS Toll-Free

2002

2003

2004

2005

Busy Signals

3,665,180

239,911

147,200

286,517

Courtesy Disconnects[10]

-

832,610

591,993

605,252

Selected Expanded Access[11]

2,924,830

228,507

72

-

Total Blocked Calls

6,590,010

1,301,028

739,265

891,769

Source:  IRS Enterprise Telephone Data Warehouse.

From the 2004 to 2005 Filing Season, the data in Figure 3 shows the IRS had an increase in:

·         Busy signals of 94.6 percent.

  • Courtesy disconnects of 2.2 percent.
  • Total blocked calls of 20.6 percent.

The IRS stated the increase in busy signals is attributed to the November 2004 implementation of the Internet Service Node.  This new system replaced the IRS’ toll-free carrier routing scripts that recognized very short call attempts (0-2 seconds) as primary abandons.[12]  Currently, these same types of calls are captured as busy signals.  Despite this increase, the percentage of busy signals remains less than 1 percent of total taxpayer calls.

For courtesy disconnects, there was an approximate 2 percent increase in volume.  The IRS attributed much of this increase to taxpayers that chose the menu in Spanish.  To accommodate this increase in volume, the IRS made the business decision to increase the volume of taxpayers receiving a courtesy disconnect.  The slight increase in the overall courtesy disconnect volume resulted in substantial improvement to the bilingual taxpayer experience by improving the Average Speed of Answer by a cumulative 376 seconds and the Spanish secondary abandon rate by 15 percentage points.  Despite the minimal increase, courtesy disconnects account for only 1 percent of the total call attempts for the CAS Toll-Free telephone assistance lines.

The IRS planned for fewer taxpayer calls and fewer services

 

In preparation for the Fiscal Year 2005 Filing Season, the Joint Operations Center planned for 38.8 million taxpayer calls, a 21.8 percent decrease from the 2004 Filing Season.  This estimate was based on historical data and workplan assumptions.  The Joint Operations Center planned for fewer calls because it expected more taxpayers to choose other methods of obtaining assistance (i.e., through the use of electronic methods such as accessing IRS.gov).  With the expected decrease in calls, the IRS anticipated taxpayers would require fewer services.

The IRS planned to provide approximately 2 million fewer toll‑free telephone assistor services and 4.5 million fewer automated services to taxpayers.  The IRS defines a service as an issue or multiple issues handled by a single assistor.  In general, one service equates to one or more taxpayer questions answered by one assistor.  For example, one call might result in the IRS counting three services provided for one taxpayer:  (1) having a tax law question answered and requesting a form (two questions = one service by one Tax Law assistor), (2) status of an Employer Identification Number (one service by a Business assistor), and (3) checking the status of the customer’s individual account (one service by an Individual Account assistor).   For the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS achieved 105 percent of its planned assistor services and 90 percent of its planned automated services.  Figure 4 shows the number of CAS Toll-Free telephone services provided for the last four filing seasons.

Figure 4:  Comparison of CAS Toll-Free Telephone Services
Provided for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons
[13]

CAS Toll-Free

2002

2003

2004

2005

Automated Services Provided[14]

36,348,921

25,818,334

25,732,372

19,131,884

Assistor Services Provided

18,748,935

17,599,403

18,606,483

17,394,240

Totals

55,097,856

43,417,737

44,338,855

36,526,124

Source:  IRS Enterprise Telephone Data Warehouse.

While the IRS exceeded its plan for assistor services provided, we believe the decrease from the 2002 Filing Season is attributed to the increase in taxpayers’ use of the Internet Refund Fact of Filing (IRFOF) application.  This application allows taxpayers to check the status of their tax refunds.  During the 2005 Filing Season, approximately 20.9 million taxpayers accessed the IRFOF application.  This represented a 15.5 percent increase from the 2004 Filing Season (from 18.1 to 20.9 million).

Assistors answered more calls than planned using less planned resources

 

For the 2005 Filing Season, assistors answered 14.8 million calls, 4 percent more than planned, using 95 percent of the planned resources.  Each year, the IRS allocates Full Time Equivalents (FTE)[15] to the Accounts Management function for the operation of the toll-free telephone program.  Based on these budgeted resources, the IRS can plan for how many taxpayer calls will be answered by assistors and how many services taxpayers may need during the calls.  These data are used to set the Level of Service goal for the filing season.  Figure 5 shows the CAS Toll-Free telephone service product lines and the number of assistor calls answered.

Figure 5:  CAS Toll-Free Telephone Service Product Lines and Number of Calls Answered[16] During the 2005 Filing Season

Figure 5 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 5, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

 

Productivity and efficiency gains were realized

 

Assistors answered more calls per FTE compared to the 2004 Filing Season.  Since the 2003 Filing Season, the IRS has experienced a steady decrease in the number of FTEs budgeted for the toll-free telephone program.  However, over the same time period the number of calls answered per FTE has increased.  To put this in perspective, assistors answered 5,171 calls per FTE in the 2002 Filing Season compared to 5,454 calls in the 2005 Filing Season.  In addition, Assistor Availability, which measures the amount of time that assistors are idle or available to answer calls, declined 42 percent compared to the 2004 Filing Season.  When Assistor Availability is low, assistors’ time is being productively used and the cost of providing toll-free telephone services decreases.  Figures 6 and 7 show a comparison of calls answered based on FTEs and Assistor Availability for the last four filing seasons.

Figure 6:  Comparison of Calls Answered per FTE for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons[17]

 

Figure 6 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 6, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

 

Figure 7:  Comparison of Calls Answered and Assistor Availability for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons[18]

 

Figure 7 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 7, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

 

The IRS implemented a new initiative to improve access that will help identify and correct high primary abandons

 

Each filing season, millions of taxpayers that call the IRS disconnect (i.e., hang up) early in their calls prior to receiving assistance.  The IRS refers to calls that disconnect before reaching the queue as primary abandons.  Primary abandons may occur when taxpayers:  (1) realize they dialed the wrong number and immediately disconnect, (2) disconnect before completing an automated routing script, or (3) choose a menu option to use an automated service but disconnect before completing the service. 

For the 2005 Filing Season, the IRS experienced 1.5 million (22 percent) fewer primary abandons compared to the 2004 Filing Season.  The number of abandoned calls is directly related to the number of attempted calls taxpayers make.  Thus, the IRS measures the number of calls attempted to calls abandoned.  This percentage has decreased from a high of 19.1 percent in the 2002 Filing Season to 12.8 percent in the 2005 Filing Season.  Figure 8 shows the number of primary abandons and total attempts for the last four filing seasons.

Figure 8:  Comparisons of Primary Abandons for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons[19]

CAS Toll-Free

2002

2003

2004

2005

Primary Abandons

10,593,981

5,402,495

6,745,735

5,273,708

Total Attempts

55,450,114

42,054,628

49,609,768

41,232,421

Percentage of Primary Abandons to Total Attempts

19.1%

12.8%

13.6%

12.8%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:  IRS Weekly Enterprise Snapshot Reports.

Primary abandons can lead to taxpayers having to call back or possibly not receiving assistance at all because they find the toll-free telephone system too difficult to use.  When taxpayers have these types of difficulties in attempting to contact the IRS, the IRS’ strategic goal of improving taxpayer service is not being met.  In completing customer satisfaction surveys during the 2005 Filing Season, taxpayers that called the IRS toll-free telephone system identified “finding the appropriate menu choice” as one of the IRS’ top improvement opportunities.[20]  Consequently, the continued identification and correction of causes for high levels of primary abandons is necessary.

Prior to November 22, 2004, the IRS did not have data on the taxpayers’ experience when navigating through the automated menu (i.e., the IRS could not determine where taxpayers disconnected).  With the implementation of the Internet Service Node, the IRS has detailed data about where and when taxpayers abandon calls.  By analyzing these data, the IRS has information about taxpayer behavior while using the menu and can begin to deduce why the taxpayer disconnected.  Furthermore, changes to the automated menu, which in the past could take months, can now be completed internally within days.

 

Taxpayers waited longer to receive services and abandoned the calls more often

 

For the 2005 Filing Season, assistors answered 14.8 million calls, approximately 4.3 million were tax law calls and 9.3 million were account-related calls.  The remaining 1.2 million calls answered were classified in other categories.  While the IRS did achieve its Level of Service goal, several performance measures declined during the 2005 Filing Season.  For example, the percentage of taxpayers that received services within 30 seconds (Assistor Response Level) declined, and the average number of seconds taxpayers waited in the queue before receiving services (Average Speed of Answer) increased.  In addition, the rate in which the taxpayer who navigated the automated menu and then disconnected while waiting to speak to an assistor (Secondary Abandon Rate) increased from the 2004 Filing Season.  However, the Transfer Rate[21] has remained fairly constant over the last three filing seasons.  Figure 9 shows a comparison of these measures for the last four filing seasons.

Figure 9:  Comparison of Various Performance Measures
for the 2002–2005 Filing Seasons
[22]

CAS Toll-Free

Tax Law Calls

Account Calls

2002

2003

2004

2005

2002

2003

2004

2005

Average Speed of
Answer (seconds)

160

196

165

190

293

138

206

301

Assistor Response Level

70.1%

56.9%

63.9%

50.9%

43.8%

56.9%

44.1%

21.4%

Secondary Abandons

11.1%

10.3%

7.0%

8.5%

15.6%

6.7%

10.4%

13.9%

Transfer Rate

38.9%

30.0%

25.5%

25.5%

12.4%

11.1%

10.2%

10.8%

Source:  IRS Enterprise Telephone Data Warehouse.

In comparison with prior years, the data in Figure 9 shows:

  • Taxpayers with tax law questions had a slightly longer wait time (25 seconds) in the 2005 Filing Season before reaching an assistor for service than in the 2004 Filing Season.  However, for taxpayers with account questions, the wait time was 301 seconds before they received service by assistors.  This was 1 minute and 35 seconds (46 percent increase) longer in the 2005 Filing Season than in the 2004 Filing Season.  This is the longest period during the last four filing seasons that taxpayers had to wait to speak to an assistor for service with their accounts.  However, per the IRS Oversight Board Survey, individuals surveyed were willing to wait an average of 8 minutes to speak to an assistor.
  • Over half of the taxpayers with tax law questions received assistor service within 30 seconds of waiting.  However, for taxpayers with account questions only 21 percent received assistor service within 30 seconds.  The percentage of taxpayers receiving service within 30 seconds has declined over the last 2 filing seasons.
  • The percentage of taxpayers with tax law and account questions that hung up while waiting for assistor service has increased by 1.5 percentage points (21 percent) and 3.5 percentage points (34 percent), respectively.  This means that during the 2005 Filing Season, more taxpayers became tired of waiting and hung up.

Taxpayers with tax law and account questions are being transferred when reaching an assistor at approximately the same rate in the 2005 Filing Season as in the 2004 Filing Season.  Reducing call transfers lowers burden by having taxpayers spend less time on the telephone.  The IRS’ cost to handle a call is also lowered when the call is completed by the first assistor it is sent to rather than transferred.

 

Customer satisfaction surveys continued to show positive results

 

From January through March 2005, 95 percent of the taxpayers who called the IRS toll-free telephone system and completed customer satisfaction surveys regarding their experience gave the IRS a rating of 4 (mostly satisfied) or 5 (completely satisfied) on a 5-point scale.[23]  The overall satisfaction rating was 4.68.  Only 2 percent of the taxpayers were dissatisfied (i.e., gave a rating of 1 or 2).  This is the second survey that reflects the overall satisfaction rating for all toll-free telephone customers since the Small Business/Self-Employed Division and the Wage and Investment Division merged at an organizational level on October 1, 2004.  These ratings are the same as the previous period (October through December 2004).

According to the Customer Satisfaction Survey, to increase taxpayer satisfaction with the toll-free telephone program, the IRS should focus improvement efforts on the following: (1) Time to Get Through to the IRS; (2) After You Reached a Representative, Time to Complete Call; and (3) Ease of Understanding Automated Answering System Menu and Instructions.  These are the top three improvement priorities for all toll-free telephone customers.

Taxpayers calling the toll-free telephone assistance lines request a more user-friendly automated answering system.  Taxpayers comment that the menu options are inappropriate, vague, and excessive.  They express a desire to spend less time on hold and experience fewer transfers.  Taxpayers also request that IRS assistors have the knowledge to answer their questions accurately and efficiently.  The IRS uses these surveys to track taxpayer satisfaction with the CAS Toll‑Free telephone program’s progress over time and to identify what CAS Toll‑Free telephone staff and managers can do to improve customer service. 

 

Appendix I

 

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

 

The overall audit objective of this review was to evaluate the customer service toll-free telephone access during the 2005 Filing Season.  To accomplish this objective, we

I.                   Evaluated the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) preparation for the toll-free telephone system for the 2005 Filing Season (the period from January through mid-April when most individual income tax returns are filed). 

A.    Analyzed the IRS’ planning documents for references to toll-free telephone access.

B.     Identified any new tax law legislation passed during Calendar Year 2004.

C.     Reviewed the United States Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040) instruction booklet and Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals (Publication 17) to determine the accuracy of published toll-free telephone numbers.

D.    Determined the process used to develop the workplans for the 2005 Filing Season.

II.                Determined whether the IRS implemented any new operational processes to improve taxpayer access to the toll-free telephone system for the 2005 Filing Season.

III.             Determined the process used to monitor call volumes and respond to any unanticipated changes in call patterns or problems taxpayers experienced accessing the toll-free telephone system.

A.    Attended biweekly executive status meetings held by the IRS for the toll-free telephone program.

B.     Reviewed application availability reports (call site staffing requirements) and workplans to compare forecasted call volumes to actual call volumes per product line and application and to determine whether stated goals were met.

IV.             Determined whether the toll-free telephone program achieved its 2005 Filing Season goals by reviewing the performance measures and indicators.  This included comparing the 2005 Filing Season performance to prior filing seasons.

V.                Followed up on IRS’ planned corrective actions in response to recommendations made in prior Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration filing season reports.

 

Appendix II

 

Major Contributors to This Report

 

Michael R. Phillips, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Wage and Investment Income Programs)

Augusta R. Cook, Director

Frank W. Jones, Audit Manager

Jack Forbus, Lead Auditor

Jean Bell, Auditor

Sylvia Sloan-Copeland, Auditor

 

Appendix III

 

Report Distribution List

 

Commissioner  C

Office of the Commissioner – Attn:  Chief of Staff  C

Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement  SE

Deputy Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Director, Customer Account Services, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAS

Acting Director, Strategy and Finance, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

Director, Accounts Management, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAS:AM

Director, Joint Operations Center, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAS:JOC

Acting Chief, Performance Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PI

Chief Counsel  CC

National Taxpayer Advocate  TA

Director, Office of Legislative Affairs  CL:LA

Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis  RAS:O

Office of Management Controls  OS:CFO:AR:M

Audit Liaison:  Acting Senior Operations Advisor, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

 

Appendix IV

 

Customer Account Services Toll-Free Telephone Service Individual Product Lines for the 2004 and 2005 Filing Seasons

 

 

Assistor
Answered
Calls

Average Speed of Answer (Seconds)

Primary
Abandons

Secondary
Abandons

Level of Service (Percentage)

Product Lines

2004

2005

2004

2005

2004

2005

2004

2005

2004

2005

Individual Income Tax Services

7.3 M

7.1 M

188

243

2.8 M

2.0 M

1.1 M

1.1 M

82.9

82.9

Business & Specialty Tax Services

1.9 M

1.9 M

120

197

459,784

440,401

191,268

308,428

89.0

84.5

Refund Hotline

101,821

717,890

239

347

1.8 M

1.6 M

28,809

179,989

35.3

76.7

Business Master File Customer Response

699,988

628,455

101

221

57,343

51,445

57,124

101,278

91.6

85.4

Small Business/
Self-Employed Individual Master File Customer Response

828,330

759,301

168

259

218,461

169,598

78,778

113,887

90.6

84.5

Wage & Investment Individual Master File Customer Response

1.7 M

1.4 M

219

291

538,248

376,929

251,278

272,031

86.5

80.1

Refund Call Back

2.7 M

1.7 M

256

381

427,866

306,826

388,647

372,706

86.8

75.6

Special Services

13,879

21,389

176

140

1,288

438

1,204

1,489

88.8

91.7

Telecommunications/ Teletype

1,092

827

164

206

231,873

233,737

421

450

36.6

31.7

National Taxpayer Advocate

76,864

64,572

87

183

117,267

66,592

9,051

13,763

87.1

79.7

Criminal Investigation

174,125

170,324

231

275

52,449

52,679

25,329

29,417

75.4

62.4

Practitioner Priority Service

260,098

280,048

89

102

22,510

27,497

15,100

18,274

94.1

93.1

Taxpayer Assistance Center – Customer Account Services

11,452

5,931

88

29

482

17

2,145

313

80.6

93.8

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

15,123

15,263

145

145

300

553

2,047

1,819

87.2

87.7

International

34,172

52,251

122

177

16,014

22,220

1,759

3,920

95.1

90.8

International Employer Identification Number

 

12,077

 

12,553

 

177

 

189

 

8,851

 

6,334

 

1,359

 

1,322

 

81.3

 

89.5

Advanced Child Tax Credit[24]

525

 

4

 

15

 

5

 

98.3

 

Totals[25]

15.9 M

14.8 M

 

 

6.7 M

5.3 M

2.2 M

2.5 M

 

 

Source:  Internal Revenue Service Enterprise Telephone Data Warehouse.

 

Appendix V

 

Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

The response was removed due to its size.  To see the response, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.



[1] The filing season is the period from January through mid-April of each year when most individual income tax returns are filed.

[2] These calls were made to the suite of 17 telephone lines the IRS refers to as “CAS Toll-Free.”  Unless otherwise specified, all references made in this report to the toll-free telephone system performance data are for CAS Toll‑Free telephone assistance lines through April 16, 2005, and comparable prior years.

[3] A Full Time Equivalent is a measure of labor hours.  One Full Time Equivalent is equal to 8 hours multiplied by the number of compensable days in a particular fiscal year.  For Fiscal Year 2005, 1 Full Time Equivalent is equal to 2,088 hours.

[4] These calls were made to the suite of 17 telephone lines the IRS refers to as “CAS Toll-Free.”  Unless otherwise specified, all references made in this report to the toll-free telephone system performance data are for CAS Toll-Free telephone assistance lines through April 16, 2005, and comparable prior years.

[5] The filing season is the period from January through mid-April of each year when most individual income tax returns are filed.  All references to the 2005 Filing Season made in this report, unless otherwise specified, are for the period from January 1 to April 16, 2005.

[6] The TeleTax system allows taxpayers to check the status of their current year refunds or listen to recorded tax information on a variety of topics.

[7] The CAS Toll-Free telephone assistance lines are further subdivided into categories called “applications.”  Each application is staffed with a group of assistors that have received specialized training to assist taxpayers with specific tax issues. 

[8] Only eight call centers handle tax law questions.

[9] Due to changes in the methodology the IRS used to capture toll-free data, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[10] Courtesy Disconnects were introduced in Fiscal Year 2003.

[11] The Selected Expanded Access is a system that allows a taxpayer to receive automated services in lieu of a busy signal during periods of peak demand.  It was discontinued in Fiscal Year 2005 because network prompting now identifies up front where to route the calls and sends them directly to assistors.

[12] The IRS refers to a call that disconnects before reaching the queue as a primary abandon.  A call that reaches the queue and then disconnects is classified as a secondary abandon.

[13] Due to changes in the methodology the IRS used to capture toll-free data, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[14] The Automated Services Provided does not include the number of services provided by the Internet Refund Fact of Filing application.

[15] An FTE is a measure of labor hours.  One FTE is equal to 8 hours multiplied by the number of compensable days in a particular fiscal year.  For Fiscal Year 2005, 1 FTE is equal to 2,088 hours.  If one assistor worked the full year, the assistor could answer 5,454 calls.

[16] Percentages do not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

[17] Due to the 2005 Filing Season ending 1 day earlier than the 2004 Filing Season, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[18] Due to the 2005 Filing Season ending 1 day earlier than the 2004 Filing Season, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[19] Due to changes in the methodology the IRS used to capture toll-free data, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[20] IRS Customer Satisfaction Survey, Toll-Free Wage and Investment Division National Report, Covering January through March 2005.

[21] The Transfer Rate compares the number of calls transferred by assistors to the number of calls handled.

[22] Due to changes in the methodology the IRS used to capture toll-free data, the totals for previous filing seasons in this chart may not equal the totals presented in previous Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports.  

[23] The only taxpayers surveyed were a sample of those that completed their interaction with the IRS.

[24] The Advanced Child Tax Credit Product Line was discontinued for Fiscal Year 2005.

[25] The individual product line totals will not sum to Totals because of rounding.