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How IRS is Sharpening Taxpayer Digital Communications

The agency’s Office of Online Services launched a platform with various tools to improve public engagement.

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The IRS is aiming to digitally communicate with taxpayers and tax professionals more effectively and securely through a recently launched Taxpayer Digital Communications (TDC) system.

The IRS stood up TDC in December 2020 after piloting it since 2016 as a platform that provides a variety of tools for public and internal engagement with IRS tax services. These tools include secure messaging, document upload capabilities, live web and text chat, as well as a virtual assistant, the agency’s Office of Online Services Director Karen Howard said during FCW’s virtual event.

The office is still continuously iterating on the tools and making improvements based on customer feedback. Customer feedback on tools, especially the secure messaging, has already yielded positive results, Howard said.

“Secure messaging remains one of the most highly rated IRS digital services with more than 80% of taxpayers consistently expressing overall satisfaction with this experience,” Howard said, adding that the secure document upload between tax professionals and taxpayers has been a boon as well.

With the live chat assistance, the office has provided both unauthenticated and authenticated chat in English and Spanish, although Howard said the team is looking to add more language options. The chats also offer chat deflection so that individuals don’t have to be on hold on a customer service line, as well as automated information to assist them with estimated wait times for live chat.

Customer feedback and surveys have been critical to continuous improvement, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic brought heightened demand for virtual avenues of communication and operation across the IRS.

“In 2020, the pandemic created new interest in both [Office of Online Services] internal and external customers in using this platform for digital communication,” Howard said. “We literally doubled the number of TDC operating installations over the past year within the IRS, with six new installations added since April of 2020.”

The IRS is building off TDC in more ways in the coming year. One iteration is through TDC Outbound Notifications, or TDC-ON, which the office is standing up as a one-way communication platform that provides taxpayer correspondence in 508-compliant, PDF-formatted digital notices within taxpayers’ online accounts.

TDC-ON’s platform currently has a select set of IRS notices that users can download and view on their IRS online accounts, and Howard said the team is working on the ability for users to opt in to completely paperless notices by December this year.

“Taxpayers will have the option just to say, ‘I don’t want any type of paper notices, please communicate with me online,’ and this is huge,” Howard said. “Not only does it help with our carbon footprint and our sustainability efforts, but it also is a more efficient way for taxpayers and tax professionals to interact.”

Other than TDC, the office has been working on various other digital improvements across the IRS based on user feedback. These include the upcoming launch of Tax Pro Accountant, which will enable taxpayers and tax professionals to establish, view, search and manage power of attorney forms and tax information authorizations. The office is also aiming to improve by expanding language options for the website’s most popular applications and investing in enhanced translation capabilities.

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