Allan Rolnick, CPA
When was the last time you called someone’s customer service number and found an actual person at the other end of the line? Did it feel like winning the lottery? We’re not talking about ordinary voicemail here. We’re talking about those endless phone tree menus that have gotten so frustrating that there’s a website — www. gethuman.com — that lets you enter a company name, then gives you the cheat code for reaching an actual human. If you’re calling Target, for example, the site says, “Press 2, then 1, then 1.” That same site even has a callback service that lets you enter your own number and let robots do the work. “We dial, navigate through their phone menu maze, and wait on hold for as long as it takes while you relax or do as you please. When we finally reach an agent, we call you back. You pick up the phone and talk to Target. Simple!” (It’s ad-supported, which means you’re the product, not the customer.) But nobody, and we mean nobody, is as bad at answering the phone as the IRS. Someday, when Shoddy Customer Service finally becomes an Olympic sport, the International Olympic Committee will rule that the IRS is too professional to compete.
Erin Collins, the National Taxpayer Advocate, reports that during 2021, the IRS logged 272 million calls – with just 11% of them reaching the holy grail of a living, breathing human being. The problem, of course, is money. Congress simply doesn’t give the IRS enough to do its job. Hopefully, that will change with this year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. That law authorized $80 billion in new IRS spending over the next ten years, including $3.2 billion for customer service. The IRS has already hired 4,000 new representatives and plans to hire another 1,000 more for the 2023 tax season. They’re training right now on technical account management issues as well as understanding and respecting taxpayer rights. And they couldn’t come a moment too soon. Tax pros like us enjoy a couple of workarounds to avoid waiting in the regular line with the peasants. The first one is a “Practitioner Priority Service” number with specially trained staff to handle more-complicated questions from CPAs and Enrolled Agents calling on behalf of clients.
Think of it as the equivalent of TSA’s Pre-Check service for skipping airport lines. More recently, there are third-party services modeled along the lines of the GetHuman app that use bots to swamp the service with calls, then sell the prime spots at the head of the line. Those services are most definitely not adsupported – the best-known of the bunch starts at a base fee of 300$/month. Except, every party has a pooper, and the IRS has decided it’s time to call the cops on those loud line-jumpers upstairs. Last month, they launched a pilot program requiring callers using the PPS line to repeat specific phrases before being transferred to a rep. And get this – it uses speech recognition technology to make sure there’s a real person calling. The Service says the goal is to improve service by reducing unnecessary wait times – perhaps by clearing out all those paid bots? But it’s hard to believe they don’t take at least a little joy in sending the high rollers back in line with everyone else. And the $300/month service we mentioned earlier has already suspended operations. Today’s technology has turned America into a nation of do-it-yourselfers. Who needs plumbers in a world of YouTube videos? But slashing through IRS red tape really is best left to the pros. So call us for answers without endless hours on hold!
Allan J Rolnick is a CPA who has been in practice for over 30 years in Queens, NY. He welcomes your comments and can be reached at 718-896-8715 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.