Economy Jun 17, 2022 02:18PM ET
© Bloomberg. Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual income tax forms for 2021 arranged in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Refund sizes in some cases have been up by nearly 25% compared with last year due to pandemic relief programs and rising wages.
(Bloomberg) — The IRS is expanding its use of voice bots to help taxpayers quickly set up or modify payment plans without having to wait long periods on the phone.
“We continue to look for ways to better assist taxpayers, and that includes helping people avoid waiting on hold or having to make a second phone call to get what they need,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement Friday.
The Internal Revenue Service was only able to answer about 20% of the calls coming into the agency in the latest tax-filing season, Rettig told lawmakers earlier this year.
Pandemic-related stimulus payments and unemployment benefits made individual taxes more complex the past two years, spurring a wave of calls to the IRS. That in turn left the agency with record-low answer rates.
The IRS has been using voice bots since the start of the year to do some simple tasks, with over 3 million calls answered, said Darren Guillot, an official in the IRS’s small-business unit.
The technology is powered by artificial intelligence, with callers identifying themselves using a pin number. Human representatives can still be reached if needed.
Guillot told reporters Friday that the bots, which are available at all times, have saved about 17 to 20 minutes per call. He said there’s a 40% satisfaction rate with the bots used so far — a rate consistent with private-sector experience.
The IRS also plans to introduce voice bots in other languages besides English and Spanish, he said. Other moves, expected later this year, include voice bots providing callers their payment history, informing them of balances owed, and providing tax-return transcripts.
“Taxpayers understandably become frustrated and demoralized when their good-faith efforts to reach the IRS are met with extended hold times and ‘courtesy disconnects,’” Erin Collins, the IRS taxpayer advocate, wrote in a blog post earlier this year.
Rettig has said he hopes to reach a 70% call-answer rate in the coming year.
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