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Briefing for the Minister of National Revenue

Managing call volumes – Investments in contact centres

Issue

The contact centres have significantly grown in size to address the needs of Canadians during the pandemic and to manage fraud and security-related risks. The contact centres were an instrumental component of the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) early response to the pandemic and continue to be a critical service for Canadians and businesses with respect to both tax issues and benefits (including the COVID-19 emergency benefits that CRA continues to administer). [Redacted]

Things to consider

  • The operating environment for the CRA contact centres has changed as the delivery of the COVID-19 emergency benefits, and the impact of the recent economic situation has led to a significant increase in call volumes and a significant increase in call handle time. The need to put additional anti-fraud measures and upfront compliance in place to manage identity theft has also led to unexpected increases in average call handle time.
  • The increased volume of calls and the longer call handle time led to long wait times, and complaints. In fact, long contact centre wait times were the top complaint from emails and letters to the Minister. In 2020-21, 33% of telephone enquiries were answered within the CRA's service standard of 15 minutes or less of opting to speak with an agent, which was below the target of 65% due to an increase in the number of calls received related to COVID-19 benefits and identity theft.
  • While Canadians were clearly not satisfied with the long wait times, post-call surveys suggest that most callers who reach an agent are satisfied with overall phone service. Research indicated that an average of 74% of taxpayers calling the individual, benefits and business phone lines overall remain satisfied with the phone service.
  • In order to reduce wait times, significant investments were made to hire and train call agents for 2021-22. The increased number of agents has resulted in a marked reduction in wait times. In fact, currently wait times are shorter on most days than they have been for many years.
  • In addition to hiring more agents, a series of other initiatives are underway including improvements to Web content and expanding self-service options.
  • In March 2020, the CRA also invested in developing and launching a Chatbot to respond to questions from Canadians about top call drivers and emergency benefits. The service was available 24/7 and in the first year just over 5.7 million questions were answered.

Next steps

  • [Redacted]
  • Continue to investigate new technology such as technology to assist with taxpayer authentication to reduce call handle time

Key messages

  • For millions of Canadians, the telephone is the method of choice to interact with the CRA
  • The CRA knows that many Canadians have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • To manage increasing call demand, the CRA increased the number of available agents, extended the hours of operation, including offering service on Saturdays, and introduced a new automated callback service
  • Post-call surveys suggest that most callers who reach an agent are satisfied with overall phone service but many are still frustrated by long wait times
  • The CRA will continue to seek out solutions to ensure it is providing the best service to Canadians by helping them get the tax information they need, when they need it

Background

2020-21 was a difficult year for CRA contact centres due to COVID-19 and security issues. During peak periods, wait times often exceeded one hour, and wait times to reach specialized agents sometimes exceeded three hours.

However, multiple waves of aggressive hiring throughout the pandemic have resulted in reduced wait times. As of September 2021, we have 5,700 agents working in the contact centers, compared to 3,700 at the same time last year. In addition to hiring more agents, the CRA temporarily procured the services of a third-party service provider to respond to calls seeking general information pertaining to COVID benefits (this contract concluded on August 31, 2021).

Given our increased capacity to answer calls, our call centre performance results should be significantly better than last year. [Redacted]

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