Tax Administration:

Making IRS' Telephone Systems Easier to Use Should Help Taxpayers

GGD-96-74: Published: Mar 11, 1996. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) development and use of interactive telephone systems to improve customer service, focusing on IRS efforts to: (1) make the phone systems easy to use; (2) protect taxpayer data; and (3) assign owners that would provide developers with systems requirements information.

GAO found that: (1) successful IRS implementation of interactive telephone systems is critical to improving IRS customer service, since IRS expects taxpayer telephone assistance to double as IRS tries to move towards a paperless system; (2) three new IRS phone systems are not user-friendly, which may cause taxpayers to use the new systems less; (3) the new phone systems' routing system has too many menu options and does not permit callers to return to the main menu if necessary; (4) IRS is aware of the systems' menu problem, but it believes the multiple options are necessary because tax issues are complex; (5) IRS is considering providing multiple toll-free numbers to alleviate its menu problem, but providing advance instructions on the menu options may be more cost-effective; (6) IRS has complied with Department of the Treasury and IRS security requirements to protect taxpayer data and is investigating ways to increase security as taxpayers gain greater access to their tax accounts; (7) IRS process owners have been designated late and have not provided all requirements information needed for the phone systems' development; and (8) an IRS cost-benefit analysis has shown that the phone systems' benefit-to-cost ratio is three to one.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An update to this report was issued on July 13, 1998 (GGD-98-152).These recommendations should be closed. Detailed written instructions on how to use the interactive applications and the menus were provided to taxpayers in the 1997 tax packages. Significant benefits have occurred since the nationwide roll-out of Telephone Routing Interactive Systems (TRIS) in October 1997. These include: (1) reviewing procedures established for various applications to adjust them to benefit taxpayers; (2) researching reasons why callers default or hang up; (3) working with a contractor to define problems with TRIS and identifying menus and scripts that may be limiting caller use; (4) expanding marketing efforts; (5) improving scripts and enhancing applications; and (6) reevaluating costs and benefits of TRIS. A status report is being provided to GAO on IRS' efforts to improve TRIS by December 31, 1998.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the actions needed to overcome the problems caused by too many menu options, including using multiple toll-free numbers and providing taxpayers with a written, detailed step-by-step description on how to use the interactive systems' menu options.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service


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