You’ve Reached the IRS ... Please Hold.

Posted by
Valerie-Ann Leary
LivePerson Contributor
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - 11:17

Happy tax day! Did you have to call the IRS this tax season? How was your experience?  According to the Washington Post, “About half of the 100 million or so people who will try to call the IRS this year probably won’t get through. The agency reckons that even those who do will have to wait 30 minutes or more.”

More recent articles say 60 percent!

Look familiar? … I thought so.

The IRS has officially exceeded expectations for terrible customer service. So, the question on our minds: what happens next?

When brands fall from grace …


No wonder taxpayers are frustrated:

6 out of 10 people who call can't reach an IRS representative

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen concludes: This is “really crummy customer service.” And, unfortunately, we aren’t surprised to hear it. The IRS has become notorious for consistently bad customer support.

Brands can expect a similar reputation if they don’t deliver on experience. Now, more than ever before, customer experience can be a differentiator… or a substantial weakness.

Digital-first consumers are your brand’s biggest fans, followers, advocates or critics; they’re also publishers, thanks to social media. They take to personal profiles to tell their friends and family about their favorite and not-so-favorite products and brands. Take the IRS for example. Below is a snapshot of recent chatter on Twitter.

What Twitter is Saying about IRS hold times

Another example: One LinkedIn publisher called IRS customer service a “mind-numbing experience.”

In the aftermath of bad customer service, brands can expect to lose influence on social media. Beyond that, negative chatter leads to a general loss of likeability.

Behind every product are the people who create, and they’re the ones who make brands relatable. If your brand’s people are inaccessible, a two-way, consumer to brand relationship cannot survive. During this year’s tax season, the IRS was called the “least-loved arm of the federal government.”

Bottom line: Bad customer service is bad for business. In fact, in the case of the IRS, “… temporary shutdowns look to be the case after all,” says Forbes.

Bad customer service isn’t a government trait.


Every organization, whether for-profit or non-profit, has potential to meet consumer expectations.

Take Leeds City Council (LCC) for instance, the local authority of the City of Leeds in West Yorkshire. Before deploying LiveEngage, LCC was struggling to deliver a seamless, digital customer journey. It was clear that anywhere between 15 and 20 percent of customers dialing support had visited the website, and couldn't find what they needed. By using live, digital engagement, LCC was able to offer live chat, get more feedback and simultaneously improve points of friction on the website.

The LCC team also found that its customer care professionals are twice as productive as voice support, which saves time and money in the long-run. LCC found that 70 percent of its customers said they would have called, if chat wasn't available.

So, like LCC, how can organizations and brands turn the tide in times of trouble?

5 ways to turn the tide


It’s never too late to sharpen your focus on customer experience. Below are five actionable ways to start rebuilding your brand image.

  1. Humanize your customer service ... before it’s too late. Prioritize the connection between consumer and customer care professionals. People want to know the people behind your brand; they want to connect with a live person.
  2. Dedicate the appropriate resources to critical support channels. With major budget cuts, IRS customer service suffered. Customer Service doesn’t have to suffer when budget pressure mounts. Messaging allows you to eliminate hold times and increase concurrency at the same time.  Ensure that your brand doesn't make the same mistake.
  3. Kill the 800-number. The age of voice support is over. Even the IRS is telling people not to call. According to CBS News, “The IRS provides a tip for trying to get answers: Avoid the phone and instead search for information on its site.”
  4. Offer self-service via digital. Help consumer help themselves with online support channels, like messaging in real-time. Where do consumers usually need help? Serve up helpful content pieces at trouble areas on your website, or offer proactive chat invitations.
  5. Be authentic. Authenticity is critical regardless of channel. Consumers identify with brands that have vision and champion culture. Otherwise, a competitor is only a Google search away. So, focus on brand values, and ensure all customer care professionals are on the same page.

Have you experience outrageous hold times? What brands have provided excellent customer experiences? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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