Accelerating Digital Communications to Solve Pandemic Challenges and Improve the Taxpayer Experience

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Get a closer look at how our high-priority Taxpayer Digital Communication (TDC) initiative is enhancing communications with taxpayers through digital channels.

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By De Lon Harris
CL-21-22, July 16, 2021

Our commitment to improve the taxpayer experience over the years has involved many approaches. Even prior to the pandemic, we were on a path to innovate our business processes to make engaging with the IRS and fulfilling tax obligations easier. One of the ways we’re doing that in my organization is through a high-priority Taxpayer Digital Communication (TDC) initiative to enhance communications with taxpayers through digital channels.

While this effort had been underway for a while, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year required us to accelerate the development of our digital communication presence, not only as a customer service improvement, but also as a way to help address work limitations due to the pandemic-related mandatory office closures.

Our Taxpayer Digital Communication initiatives include secure messaging, a text chat function and outbound notifications that have greatly enabled us to support taxpayers during these often challenging times. I’d like to give you a closer look at these exciting changes that have already helped many people.

Secure Messaging

Secure Messaging is a completely web-based system for IRS employees and IRS Assistors, as well as taxpayers and their representatives. It allows the IRS and the taxpayer to share messages and supporting documents through a secure portal, reducing the need for phone calls and mailing documents, and decreasing the time to resolve accounts.

Secure Messaging was first piloted in the Small Business and Self-Employed (SB/SE) Division’s Correspondence Examination operations. Then, in early 2020, the IRS initiated the expansion of Secure Messaging to ensure that the SB/SE, Large Business & International (LB&I), and Appeals organizations had some form of secure messaging. These efforts were accelerated as we found that many taxpayers and IRS employees were unable to conduct normal tax administration business using traditional processes and practices during the pandemic.

One of the benefits of Secure Messaging is that it allows IRS Assistors to upload large files up to 1GB in size. To date, over 21,000 taxpayers have successfully signed up to take advantage of this service. With these improvements, we’ve seen digital communication help resolve audits quicker and improve taxpayer satisfaction, with an overall satisfaction rate of over 83% on our customer satisfaction surveys. This approach also provides taxpayers with a convenient way to comply with tax laws using a communication channel they prefer and at a time that works with their schedule.

We have also deployed Secure Messaging on a smaller scale in our office audit and Automated Underreporter (AUR) programs. The AUR program matches information returns (Forms 1099, W-2s, etc.) against data reported on individual tax returns, and may also generate proposed assessments. We are looking at other areas where this feature can improve operations and customer engagement, including in our Field Collection and Field Examination organizations.

Chat

Text Chat allows the IRS to offer real-time chat assistance to taxpayers and enables assistors to exchange text messages, files, webpages, and other information to address taxpayer queries, both proactively and reactively.

Our Automated Collection System (ACS) receives millions of calls annually about Collection notices. To better serve taxpayers and improve the level of service to customers, assisted text chat, called ACS Chat, was first deployed in November 2017 at the Brookhaven Campus in New York. Letter 5972C, Automated Collection System Text Chat, was developed during the pilot program to encourage taxpayers to resolve notice issues by using the available self-help and online resources. We added a chat button to IRS.gov to respond to taxpayer questions, and then added text chat buttons to the payments page and to certain Online Payment Agreement (OPA) error pages to help taxpayers resolve rejected agreements.

In October 2018, additional chat buttons were added to Letter 16, Please Call Us About Your Overdue Taxes, and Letter 24, We've Received Your Payment Proposal. In March 2019, a proactive chat was implemented on the “Additional Instructions on Payment Plans” webpage. Proactive chat is a pop-up text chat bot that displays when a taxpayer has been on a webpage for 30 seconds, but only if there is a live assistor available. Authenticated chat was launched in June 2019 to handle OPA questions, and the ability for taxpayers to upload attachments was made available in June 2020. And, in our continuing efforts to communicate with customers in a language they are most comfortable with, in August 2019, Spanish language support was also added.

ACS Chat is currently being used by SB/SE employees at all 19 call sites. And this function is making a difference. Since it was launched in 2017, there have been over 954,000 chat sessions, with 82% covering payments and 15% addressing OPA topics. The average ACS Chat handle time is between six minutes and about 23 minutes with an average wait time of 35 seconds. And our customer satisfaction rate is 4.1 out of 5.

Taxpayer Digital Communication – Outbound Notification (TDC-ON)

Taxpayer Digital Communication – Outbound Notification, or TDC-ON as we call it, is a web-based application that gives individual taxpayers access to specific IRS notifications through the Online Account (OLA) application. Taxpayers can register for an Online Account to be able to access notifications, as well as view account balances and make payments PDF. This tool increases Online Account functionality and will reduce the volume of notices that need to be mailed and the associated costs for those mailings. The application integrates with the existing OLA web application infrastructure and leverages the same IRS e-authentication platform.

Our Taxpayer Digital Communication initiatives include secure messaging, a text chat function and outbound notifications that have greatly enabled us to support taxpayers during these often challenging times.

Our dedicated team worked hard to issue the release of notices last November, covering nearly one quarter of the annual notice volume. This enabled taxpayers to navigate to their Message Center within their Online Account and view various official IRS notices in a 508-compliant PDF format that can also be downloaded and sorted using a single sign-on capability. They can also navigate directly to IRS.gov online payment options and tools from within the Message Center. A second release was deployed in June 2021 that provided access to an additional five notice types, making 11 total new notices available online.

As a result, the following notices are now available through taxpayers’ Online Accounts:

  • CP-21A – Recalculation – Balance Due
  • CP-60 – We Removed Payments from Your Account – Balance Due
  • CP-14I – Return Filed – IRA Taxes or Penalties Due
  • CP-521 – Monthly Installment Agreement Payment Reminder (SB/SE Notice)
  • CP-01A – We Assigned You an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN)
  • CP-62 – We Credited Your Account
  • CP-14 – Balance Due
  • CP-49 – Refund Offset (SB/SE Notice)
  • CP-39 – Overpaid Taxes Applied – Balance Due
  • CP-14H – Owed Minimum Essential Health Coverage Payment (Shared Responsibility Payment)
  • CP-501 – Balance Due-First Notice

This fall, we’ll deploy even more enhancements. Using their Online Account, taxpayers will be able to opt-Out of receiving select paper-based notices via USPS, opt-In to receiving select paper-based notices via USPS, sign up to receive Email Notifications when a new notice has been added to Online Account, and report Erroneous Correspondence within the Notices and Letters page.

And we’re not done yet. I’m committed to working with taxpayers and tax professionals to continuously seek out areas for innovation and improvement. We will continue to identify additional notices for deployment, and our team will continue planning for additional capabilities. We owe it to our employees and taxpayers to make these kinds of processes less complicated and quicker. I’m excited about this innovation and look forward to finding more ways to improve the taxpayer experience for everyone.

De Lon Harris
Commissioner, SB/SE Examination

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About the Author

De Lon Harris is the Commissioner, Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE) Examination where he provides executive leadership and direction in the design, development and delivery of a comprehensive tax administration program to meet the needs of over 57 million small business owners and self-employed taxpayers with business interests having less than $10 million of assets. He provides Operational program support responsible for expertise and direction of many special projects: Campus Exam/Automated Underreporter (AUR), Field Exam, Specialty Exam, Headquarters Exam and Exam Performance & Planning Analysis. He also oversees the Office of Promoter Investigations that provides support and coordination for all IRS efforts in analyzing and identifying abusive tax transactions, tax schemes, and emerging abusive schemes.

 

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