Using customer feedback proactively.

Author:Holland, Debra

The IRS serves millions of individual and business customers and is responsible for processing more than 143 million individual income tax returns and the resulting payments and refunds. As the country's accountant, the IRS is accountable to American taxpayers, in addition to its many oversight bodies and partners within and outside the government.

Like all federal agencies, we have confronted challenges during this period of budgetary constraints and uncertainty. Yet we must be able to measure our performance and progress toward strategic goals across all operations.

While the IRS uses a large amount of quantitative and qualitative data, we've learned that there is more we can do to reach our overarching goal of serving taxpayers the best way we can with limited resources.

Asking the Right Questions

Counting is one of the IRS's integral duties, and while such measurements can answer quantitative questions about our processes and operations, numbers don't tell the whole story of the IRS's performance, challenges, and taxpayer behaviors. Counting tells us:

* How many tax returns and payments were processed?

* How many calls were answered?

* How many refunds were issued and how long it took to issue them?

* How many people visit our website?

But it doesn't tell us why or what the experience was like for taxpayers. So how do we find out what the numbers don't say?

We knew engaging our employees and partners would help us dig deeper into our data, and identify and stay abreast of issues--almost in real time. In 2012, we began adding employee and partner feedback to the data we already collected, as well as monitoring taxpayers' mentions of the IRS on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

By adding this feedback to the mix, the IRS is able to identify hot topics and concerns as they surface. Previously, it may have taken weeks or months to review and fix these issues.

The Customer Early Warning System

We call this new approach the Customer Early Warning System, or CEWS. CEWS is a two-pronged system with the following two objectives:

  1. Listen to customers.

  2. Share and solve problems with internal and external partners.

The CEWS team meets daily to discuss issues, collaborate on solutions, and put the fixes in place before most taxpayers even realize there was an issue.

By listening to the public through our employees, partners, and social media outlets, the IRS can improve communications, processes, and operations. Through an aptly...

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