IRS revises taxpayer call routing system

IRS revises taxpayer call routing system

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

The IRS is revamping its call routing and management system to speed taxpayer access to information.

The system, which is undergoing systems integration tests at the service's New Carrollton, Md., office, will be operational nationwide next month.

More tests are slated later this month in the Atlanta office, said Cecil Usher, deputy business assurance director with the IRS customer communications initiative.

Under this initiative, the agency will automate call routing, set up a network-prompting system and create a voice recognition program for refund queries.

The new communications system will increase telephone accessibility for taxpayers, increase availability of automated applications, particularly for rotary-phone callers, reduce the number of calls that require agent assistance for routing, and reduce maintenance costs, an IRS spokeswoman said.

Busy signals

With network prompting, AT&T Corp. will screen all taxpayer calls. Using voice recognition capabilities, AT&T will either route the taxpayer to automated services or to a customer service representative, depending on the inquiry.

The IRS often has been unable to meet taxpayer demand for service, and during peak periods, taxpayers would get busy signals when calling the agency's toll-free line.

For the recent filing season, the IRS upgraded 25 automated call distributors at its major sites, including Atlanta; Dallas; Fresno, Calif.; Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Memphis, Tenn., Usher said.

The upgrades included installing 1,949 copies of Aspect 7.2 Custom View and Software Management System desktop suites, 117 network printers and PCs, and three real-time servers.

The IRS has consolidated its toll-free service from eight to four automated call distributors in the Atlanta, Dallas and Fresno centers.

The consolidation has increased the capacity of each distributor, doubling the number of phone calls that the distributors can handle, Usher said.

Voice recognition will let taxpayers direct themselves to the service they need when they call the IRS toll-free line. A voice recognition feature will also let rotary callers use the phone system. And callers can find out the status of their tax returns.

Meanwhile, the agency's telephone assistance showed mixed results during last year's filing season, the General Accounting Office said.

The agency answered 59 percent of calls to the toll-free taxpayer assistance lines last year, better than in 1999 when it answered 50 percent, but below the 69 percent level achieved in 1998, GAO said in a May 7 report, IRS Telephone Assistance: Quality of Service Mixed in the 2000 Filing Season and Below IRS' Long-Term Goal.

For tax law and account questions, the IRS estimated it provided accurate answers 73 percent and 59 percent of the time, respectively, GAO said.

Targets unmet

Tax law accuracy was lower than the 2000 target of 80 percent, and account accuracy was slightly lower than the 2000 target of 63 percent, the report added.

The agency's performance was influenced by factors such as demand for assistance, number of staff the IRS devoted to providing assistance, and assistants' productivity and skill levels.

Although the IRS has undertaken efforts to analyze its performance and identify ways to improve, the efforts have been incomplete, the report said. The agency lacks the information it needs to make decisions to improve performance, GAO said.

The IRS should consider key management decisions that can affect performance to determine their impact and make improvements, GAO recommended.

In its response, the IRS agreed with the assessment and recognized the need to improve its performance analysis.

'Comparisons to 1998 are not valid due to the changes made to accommodate our technological advance to a national networked system,' IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti said in a letter.

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