Since their introduction two years ahead of schedule in early 2022, IRS voice bots have proven effective in helping recipients of notices, with more features to be rolled out soon, an agency official said at a tax conference.
Originally planned to be unveiled in 2024, the IRS’ Automated Collection System (ACS) has, since January, allowed taxpayers who were mailed bills or other collection-related correspondence to call toll-free lines and speak with a voice bot that uses artificial intelligence. Eligible taxpayers verify their identity with the bot to set up or modify a payment plan, which halts the mailing of subsequent notices.
The voice bots are a potentially viable solution to some customer service woes at the IRS, as callers have been subjected to longer wait times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understaffed call centers have been able to answer only a fraction of the millions of calls that come in each year. The volume increased in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic-related questions, as detailed in the National Taxpayer Advocate’s report to Congress.
Darren Guillot, deputy commissioner of collection and operations support in the IRS’s Small Business/Self Employed Division, spoke about the agency’s service gaps at a conference hosted by the University of San Diego and RJS Law. “We simply don’t have now, and we certainly didn’t then, have enough people to answer every phone call,” he said.
Voice bots allow taxpayers with outstanding tax bills and possibly facing an enforcement action to circumvent wait times, Guillot said, adding that the bots shore up availability for agents to work with taxpayers who have a hardship that requires a human touch.
Guillot said that as of mid-July, ACS had answered about 3.7 million calls. He said he hoped the program can reach a call containment rate of 40%, which is the “ballpark of where the private industry is for successful robots phone operations.” Right now, the containment rate is closer to 30%, according to Guillot.
By the end of this year, more functions will be added to the bots, enabling taxpayers to request account and return transcripts, payment history summaries, and current account balances. The technology is expected to be more widely implemented throughout the IRS. See IRS voice, chat bots assisting taxpayers on simple collection matters (3/21/2022). This will eventually include the agency’s examination operations as well as the Taxpayer Advocacy Service, Guillot said.
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