TAX DAY: Customer Service and the IRS

On Tax Day 2013, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the IRS as a customer-focused organization. While the relationship between the IRS and the average taxpayer doesn’t perfectly reflect the typical customer relationship, there are still some customer service lessons to be learned from the IRS.

The historically antagonistic relationship between taxpayers and the IRS changed to some degree over the past 10 years. In fact, three years ago, real life imitated board games in the form of an actual tax error in my favor. I actually received a letter notifying me that my tax refund would be a few hundred dollars more than I’d anticipated. HOT DOG!

Aside from my own feel-good story, the IRS largely changed its image by finally paying attention to some of the basic tenets of customer service:

  1. Pay attention to your customers
  2. Give them multiple ways to get the answers they need
  3. Provide accurate information
  4. Be timely

So, how did these simple steps benefit the IRS? Essentially, the same way these improvements would benefit any company looking to improve its customer experience.

Regardless of where an individual falls on the political spectrum, the process of paying taxes is an unpleasant one for any person. To compound the inherently bummer nature of paying taxes, the tax code is quite possibly the most complicated set of rules the average American will deal with at any point in his or her life.

From the IRS perspective, they find themselves at a disadvantage from the outset. In the past, the largely bureaucratic tone of interactions with the IRS only exacerbated the disadvantageous starting point.

To overcome its customer-unfriendly past, the IRS gave greater interest to understanding what gave customers problems—complicated forms, difficulty in filing, customer contact channels. As a result of increased attention to these matters, taxpayers found themselves spending less time on their tax returns and getting better results.

Along with improvements to third-party, tax filing applications such as TurboTax and TaxCut, the IRS has simultaneously benefited from its own commitment to customer service as technology has made it infinitely easier to fill out the requisite forms.

While it’s possible your personal experience this year may not have been totally awesome, it’s much better on the whole. So, overall we can look at the IRS as a serviceable example of how customer service and third-party partners can help make a company serve its customers in the manner they deserve.

Just as long they do a better job of respecting the privacy of their customers’ e-mails.


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