IRS 2021 CX Profile

Back to Customer Experience Profiles

Individual Taxpayer Services

Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury

The IRS played a major role in the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, delivering hundreds of millions of Economic Impact Payments to help people weather the crisis.

The agency also expanded its commitment to delivering a streamlined experience for taxpayers—appointing its first chief taxpayer experience officer and issuing a comprehensive customer experience strategy.  

During the pandemic, Americans flocked to the IRS’ website for assistance—visits increased by 145% in 2020. However, identity verification requirements, designed to protect taxpayer identities, can make it hard for people to access authenticated IRS accounts to take advantage of personalized, self-service features such as making payments. In response to this challenge, in 2021 the IRS piloted an improved authentication service intended to increase the authentication rate for digital services. Some of the information or support functions customers often look for online—such as a detailed update as to why their refund has been delayed—are unavailable, leading people to call the agency for additional information. But while people calling the IRS continued to have difficulty getting through, particularly as the agency handled unprecedented pandemic-related demand, those who did speak with an agent usually had a good experience receiving help—emphasizing, alongside other improvements, the urgency of continuing to expand the IRS’ automated callback system after years of staff cuts.  

Service Overview

Primary customers

The individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations and charities that must file taxes, as well as tax professionals who help others prepare their tax filings.

Key services for individual taxpayers

  • Tax-return processing.
  • Collection and processing of tax payments.
  • Processing of tax refunds and assistance with inquiries about refund status.
  • Access to tax records.
  • Answers to taxpayer questions about how to fulfill tax responsibilities.
  • Delivery of financial benefits to taxpayers, such as the Economic Impact Payments and the Advanced Child Tax Credit.

Service snapshot (All data for fiscal year 2020, unless otherwise specified)

  • ~82.5 million attempted calls to IRS accounts management customer service lines.1
  • 1.6 billion visits to IRS.gov.2
  • 1 million face-to-face contacts through IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers.3
  • 242 million federal tax returns and forms processed.4
  • Through June 2021, more than 470 million Economic Impact Payments delivered.

Data Highlights

of callers found IRS employees to be helpful.

hours of hold time for callers saved after the IRS implemented an automated callback feature.

of taxpayers who were able to meet the IRS’ authentication standards and register for a new online account.

of callers to the IRS’ main customer service line who reached an agent, due to impacts related to the pandemic.5


Customer Experience Insights

Improvement from last year

Room for improvement

People who call the IRS can have trouble reaching a representative, making it hard for them to get important information such as the status of a delayed refund.

Customers often call the IRS for information or services they are unable to access online. Outdated technology and operational challenges during the shift of agents to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the loan of IRS call center staff to FEMA to help with the pandemic response, all made it difficult for the IRS to deal with a high volume of calls in fiscal 2020. This trend continued when the tax filing season began in early 2021, with the agency answering only one in 50 calls on some phone lines.6

To help mitigate this issue, in 2020, the IRS expanded an automated callback feature that enables customers to receive a call back from an agent, rather than waiting on hold. This feature saved taxpayers a total of 486,000 hours of hold time, and in fiscal 2020, those who used the customer callback feature were able to successfully reconnect with an IRS representative approximately 90% of the time. In 2020, the agency expanded this feature from five to 16 of its phone lines, with the feature now available for 40% of calls. The IRS plans to add the feature to nearly all phone lines by 2024.

Beyond improving the ability of customers to reach an agent over the phone, the IRS is also working to improve and expand access to the information and self-service tasks available on its website. (see more below).

Callers who reach an IRS representative rate the services they receive highly, commending the helpfulness of employees and noting that they were treated fairly.

Despite the challenges of maintaining services during the coronavirus pandemic while also implementing new programs, including Economic Impact Payments, overall satisfaction with the IRS customer service line remained strong in fiscal 2021.

Visitors to the IRS website are often frustrated when they are unable to complete the purpose of their visit.

People visiting the IRS website or logging into online accounts were often looking for information on the status of a delayed tax refund or Economic Impact Payment, but detailed status updates were not always available—the IRS’ current online tools enable customers to see whether their return is being processed, but do not offer more specific timelines. Customers were also often looking to initiate direct communication with the IRS to resolve an issue, but this feature is not available online and customers must call the agency for this type of direct, personalized communication. To address this gap, in 2021 the IRS piloted web chat for Economic Impact Payments to enable customers to communicate with an IRS staff member through the agency’s website.

People often struggle to verify their identity when accessing certain online services. 

The IRS’ website contains many self-service tools that customers can use to access their tax records and make payments. To deliver these personalized services, the IRS needs to be able to verify customers’ identities before providing them with sensitive financial information. However, many customers are unable to create an authenticated account and access these online tools because of the agency’s current identity verification methods.

  • In fiscal 2020, only 42% of taxpayers attempting to verify their identity and register for a new online account were able to meet IRS’ authentication standards.10

Customers may need to verify their identity for several reasons—for example, if their tax return is flagged for potential identity fraud. However, people do not always have all the documentation they need to verify their identity, such as mortgage or credit card information. If customers cannot verify their identity online, they need to call the IRS or visit in person.

The agency is seeking to increase customers’ ability to verify to their identity, while maintaining needed security standards, through a program called Secure Access Digital Identity. The program is being tested on some online features in 2021, and the agency plans to expand it to additional features by 2024. This new system will enable people to verify their identity using more readily available documentation, such as utility bills or drivers’ licenses.

The IRS is expanding access to information and forms in languages other than English, essential for serving an increasingly diverse public.

As part of the agency’s Multi-Lingual Initiative—an effort to expand the languages IRS services are available in—for the first time this filing season, the IRS provided its most commonly used tax form in Spanish: the 1040. Also, for the first time, the 1040 form enables taxpayers to indicate whether they want to receive notices from the IRS in a language other than English, helping to ensure that customers understand the important information they get from the IRS. Additionally, most pages on the agency’s website are available in seven languages other than English and taxpayers who call the IRS have access by phone to interpreter services in more than 350 languages.

However, out of the 10 most commonly filed tax forms, the 1040 is the only one available in another language and only in one other language—Spanish. The agency is working on making more forms available in Spanish and other languages.

Delivering Taxpayer Services Equitably

Equity is important when designing and delivering taxpayer services to ensure everyone can meet their tax obligations without undue burden and receive the tax benefits they are eligible for. One of the key functions of the U.S. tax system is aid delivery—upon income verification people with low incomes can access a number of government benefits. But people might not even be aware of their eligibility for certain benefits and navigating the tax filing process can be challenging for those who have lower levels of financial literacy and are unable to pay for tax help.

For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the biggest tax breaks for workers with low to moderate income. Over 25 million people received close to $62 billion in EITC in 2020. People qualifying for the EITC might also qualify for other tax credits, including Child Tax Credit and the Credit for Other Dependents, Education Credits and others.

Recognizing the importance of ensuring equitable access and experiences with its services, the IRS does extensive outreach and communication to reach potential customers who might not otherwise be aware of the agency’s programs. For example, when implementing the Economic Impact Payments, the IRS extended its outreach to particular communities—such as veterans and those experiencing homelessness—to ensure awareness of the program. Additionally, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free basic tax return preparation to people with lower incomes, disabilities and limited English proficiency. VITA has operated for more than 50 years. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free tax help for customers over 60 years of age and older, focusing on questions about pensions and retirement-related issues. The agency also makes special efforts to reach other underserved populations, for example, through partnering with shelters to help people experiencing homelessness file a tax return and receive a refund or payment. During the coronavirus pandemic IRS also partnered with local organizations to distribute paper flyers with QR codes to people who are homeless for them to be able to access information on pandemic relief and receive stimulus payments.

Leading Customer Experience Practices

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. 

Organizational Commitment

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.   

Yes

The agency’s strategic plan includes goals around “making it easier for taxpayers to understand and meet their tax obligations” and continuing to “add and enhance tools and support to improve taxpayers’ and tax professionals’ interactions with the IRS on whichever channel they prefer.”

2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.

Yes

The agency’s strategic plan includes a performance measure based on customer satisfaction with IRS phone lines.

3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.

Yes

Improvement from last year
The IRS created a new chief taxpayer experience officer position in January 2021.

Ease of Customer Interactions

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.  

Yes

Customers can complete common transactions online, over the phone or at Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. 

Yes

Customers can get online updates on the status of their tax refunds.   

3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.

No

The IRS does not respond to comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. 

4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.

Yes

Content in 21 languages is available on IRS.gov.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.

Yes

The IRS collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its online, phone and in-person services, in line with OMB guidance. 

2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.

Yes

The IRS collects first-hand customer feedback on nearly all of its major programs.

3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.

Yes

The IRS aggregates and analyzes a number of customer feedback measures that are shared with leadership and staff through a multi-channel performance dashboard.

Back to Customer Experience Profiles
Footnotes and Methodology

Footnote

  1. National Taxpayer Advocate, “2020 Annual Report to Congress.” Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2ZNq7TX.
  2. IRS Data Book. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3GJT6bM
  3. Ibid.
  4. IRS, “Putting Taxpayers First, Fiscal 2020 Progress Update.” Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3q4c3zS.  
  5. National Taxpayer Advocate, 2020 Annual Report to Congress. 
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Data is from a telephone survey administered to customers calling the IRS’ toll-free service lines. Response options use a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The percentages for each question represent the percentage of customers who responded “agree” and “strongly agree” for Q1 and Q2 of fiscal 2021. 
  9. Data is from a survey administered to customers who successfully logged into their IRS account on a desktop computer. Response options use a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The percentages for each question represent the percentage of customers who responded “agree” and “strongly agree” for Q1 and Q2 of fiscal 2021. 
  10. Ibid. 

Customer experience indicators methodology

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

  1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
    • Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience 
  2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
    • Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. 
  3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

  1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. 
  2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
    • Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines.
  3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
    • Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis.
  4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
    • Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

  1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
    • Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction)
  2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
    • Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data.
  3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
    • Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback.

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.