Bots—short for robots—are software programs that perform automated tasks. You've probably interacted with bots when contacting the customer service departments of companies with which you do business.
Add the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to that list of companies now that the agency has announced the use of voice and chat bots on two of its specialized toll-free telephone assistance lines—with more to come. The move, part of the IRS Taxpayer Experience Strategy, is designed to improve IRS-taxpayer interactions by providing more information through the use of new technology such as artificial intelligence voice and chat bots.
- The IRS has started using customer service robots to quickly answer questions for taxpayers with simple tax situations.
- This frees up human agents to concentrate on taxpayers with more complex problems.
- Taxpayers can still speak with a regular customer service representative if they wish.
- For now bots handle simple situations involving tax payment issues, answers to frequently asked questions, and how to understand IRS collection notices.
- IRS bots, which are part of the Taxpayer Experience Strategy, are actually software programs based on artificial intelligence (AI) and designed to interact with humans using a language appropriate human-sounding voice.
- The IRS also calls attention to numerous other self-service options for taxpayers.
Currently, the bots allow taxpayers with simple questions about payments or collection notices to get answers to their questions quickly while freeing human customer service representatives to concentrate on more complicated situations.
"Our phone lines continue to see unprecedented demand, and the IRS continues to look for ways to help people and avoid long wait times,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. "Our telephone representatives remain an important part of the service we provide, but these bots can help some people avoid lengthy phone delays for something that could be resolved on the spot. This is part of a larger effort to help people get the assistance they need this tax season."
Taxpayers still have the option to speak with an IRS telephone representative if needed.
Limited Application for Now — Expansion Coming
IRS use of Spanish and English voice and chat bots began a few weeks ago to help taxpayers with tax payment issues and understanding a notice they may have received from the agency. According to the IRS, taxpayers with general tax season questions will likely be directed to a human agent and not a bot at this time. Currently the bots are there to help taxpayers with:
- How to make one-time payments
- Answers to certain frequently asked questions
- Collection notice clarification
In addition, voice bots currently help people calling the Economic Impact Payment (EIP) toll-free line and provide general responses to frequently asked questions on that subject. The IRS has also added voice bots for the Advance Child Tax Credit toll-free line for callers who need help reconciling the credits on their 2021 tax return.
Later this year, the IRS plans voice bots that will enable taxpayers to authenticate their identity to establish payment plans, request a transcript, and obtain information about their IRS accounts. The agency also plans to roll our more voice and chat bots designed to help taxpayers with more complex tax issues.
Inside Bot Software
As noted, voice bots are software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that allow callers to navigate interactive voice response (IVR) systems using only their voice in their chosen language. Chat bots simulate human conversation through text interaction, also using AI that responds to language prompts.
When a taxpayer asks to speak to a customer service representative, they are placed in a queue for English or Spanish ACS telephone assistance. The IRS voice and chat bots currently provide unauthenticated services, meaning they do not have access to the taxpayer's protected account information.
According to the IRS, its toll-free telephone lines receive millions of calls a year and customer service representatives spend, on average, almost 20 minutes with each taxpayer they help. Freeing up representatives for those with complicated issues is one of the major benefits of voice and chat bots.
Part of the Taxpayer Experience Strategy
The IRS considers its taxpayer experience strategy the cornerstone of the IRS mission. It encompasses every taxpayer interaction, whether it’s visiting IRS.gov for more information, calling the toll-free line with a question, or meeting with a revenue agent.
Voice and chat bot interactions are part of the overall IRS Taxpayer Experience Strategy, which the agency says results in:
- Less time waiting on the phone due to expanded use of appointment and call-back technology
- Convenient communication from the IRS, in different languages and preferred methods
- Easy and secure ways to access tax information, update personal accounts, communicate with and make payments from any device
- Personalized notifications about changes to tax situations, refund status, audit status, and payments
- Easy-to-understand, accessible tax information and easier access to the tools needed to file complete and accurate returns
- Less time spent explaining issues to multiple IRS personnel, increasing the likelihood that the issue is resolved in one interaction.
Other Self-Service Options
The IRS also reminds taxpayers about other self-service options that are available.
- IRS.gov tools, which taxpayers can use to find information about their accounts, are especially easy to use and available 24 hours a day.
- Individuals who didn't qualify for a third Economic Impact Payment or got less than the full amount may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. They need to access their online accounts to ensure they claim the correct amount.
- People will need to know the total amount of Advance Child Tax Credit payments they received in 2021 to compare them with the full amount of the Child Tax Credit that they can properly claim when they file their 2021 tax return.
- Once taxes have been filed, filers can check the status of their refund in real time on the Where's My Refund site.