TREASURY INSPEcTOR GENERAL
FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION
THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVIcE'S EFFORTS TO INcREASE THE TELEPHONE LEVEL OF AccESS cAN BE IMPROVED
Reference No. 093708
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) committed to dramatically increasing the level of access provided to taxpayers using the telephone assistance system during Fiscal Year (FY) 1997. Ensuring that the IRS improves customer service has been one of the congressí main concerns in recent years. Several initiatives were successfully implemented that resulted in an additional 8.9 million calls answered over FY 1996 levels. Level of access improved by 19 percent (from 47 to 66 percent) from the prior fiscal year. However, this has come at a high cost of over $51 million. Some operational improvements will ensure that certain resources are used in a more efficient manner to fulfill increased access responsibilities.
This review was conducted to determine whether the IRSí strategy to increase the level of access resulted in improved taxpayer service in an economical manner.
TeleTax Rerouting could Improve Taxpayer Access and Minimize Reliance on Live Assistance
The TeleTax system had significantly poorer performance in 1997 than in 1996. Net calls (i.e., attempted calls minus busy signals) decreased from 40.6 million in FY 1996 to 37.4 million in FY 1997, although busy signals increased over the same period. The increase in busy signals can be most clearly seen by comparing the peak seven-week period in 1996 (mid-February to the end of March) when there were 9.4 million busy signals to the same period in 1997 when there were 22.9 million busy signals. Some specific examples of increased busy signals resulting from routing imbalances include:
customer Service Management Should Ensure Response Quality by consistently Monitoring Employee Telephone calls with Taxpayers
Managerial on-line quality call monitoring review criteria varied significantly from a high of five calls per employee per month to a low of three calls per employee per quarter at the 10 customer Service call sites we reviewed. Only one site met its monitoring criteria. The remaining nine sitesí review rates ranged from 0 to 83 percent of the monitoring plan goal. In addition:
Improvements Are Needed in National Instructions and Guidance on How to compile and Report Telephone Data
Management information reports need improvement as a result of the following:
Performance Measures Should Be Expanded to Include Measures That Support the Level of Access Objective
The performance indicators in customer Serviceís Annual Performance Plan, while appropriate, are not specific enough to assess the cause of good or poor performance.
One of the main ways customer service can be improved is to increase taxpayersí access via the toll-free telephone system. Some of the performance measures should, therefore, evaluate the level of access.
Summary of Recommendations
Technical, procedural, quality assurance and managerial changes could improve the toll-free telephone system. The technical changes would include linking the TeleTax system to the IRSí consolidated system of taxpayer account records (i.e., the Universal Integrated Data Retrieval System) and a network router. The procedural changes would include monitoring TeleTax calls on-line to better route calls. Quality assurance could be improved by setting a national standard for monitoring employee telephone calls with taxpayers and instituting a system to ensure that this standard is followed. A managerial change would standardize management information system reporting and develop a review system until this data can be fully automated. Finally, another managerial change would focus performance measures on factors that reflect whether taxpayers are receiving timely service.
Managementís Response: IRS management agreed with the facts and several of the recommendations in the report and agreed to take some corrective actions. In the technology area, the IRS will begin to replace TeleTax in 2001. For the procedural changes, the IRS has implemented a strategy to improve TeleTax access to better balance nationwide calls and reduce busy signals. changes are planned for the quality assurance area by establishing a minimum review standard for monitoring employee telephone calls with taxpayers. A management review process has been established to ensure that this standard is met. Two managerial changes are planned for standardizing the definitions and calculations for reporting telephone data. First, the Regional chiefs for customer Service have been requested to be personally involved in ensuring accurate and timely reporting. Second, a national target was set for the secondary abandoned call rate and this rate was included as a customer service measure.
Managementís complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix IV.