Examination into whether call centre agents of the Canada Revenue Agency denied taxpayers’ access to a supervisor

March 31, 2016

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman is closing its systemic examination into whether call centre agents of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) denied taxpayers’ access to a supervisor. This examination is closed without recommendation.

Background

This systemic examination was started in July 2011. Our office noticed a trend in taxpayers complaining that they were being denied access to a supervisor. For most, this was not the main reason they were contacting our office, but the denial of access played a significant role in the taxpayers’ ability to resolve their issues with the CRA. Access to a supervisor is an important first-step in the CRA’s Service Complaint Program and taxpayers are encouraged to resolve their complaints at the lowest level possible.

Our examination was completed and recommendations were created under the former Taxpayers’ Ombudsman. We sent a draft report to the CRA for a technical accuracy review and received the CRA’s response on April 8, 2014.

In the course of our examination, my office found that:

  • some taxpayers alleged being completely denied access to a supervisor;
  • some mentioned that the CRA telephone agent disconnected the line when the taxpayer asked to be transferred to a supervisor; and
  • others alleged that they were told a supervisor would call them back within 24 to 48 hours; but the taxpayer never received the phone call.

As a result, we examined the issue of access to enquiries call centres (“call centres”) supervisors and the associated difficulties taxpayers sometimes face in being able to speak with a supervisor at the CRA. More specifically, we looked at how CRA enquiries call centres agents (“call centre agents”) handle requests for access to a supervisor.

Findings

At the beginning of our examination, the CRA’s procedures for accessing a supervisor were inconsistent between call centres and resulted in taxpayers receiving different levels of service, depending on the procedures of the specific call centre. We found the following inconsistencies in the various call centres’ procedures for referring and transferring calls to supervisors:

  • Some call centre agents transferred calls directly to their supervisor, while others referred the call to their supervisor by completing an Enquiries Disposal Sheet (Form T196) to request that the taxpayer be called back.
  • Depending on the specific call centre, the procedures required some call centre agents to send the request electronically, while others would put a paper copy of the Form T196 on their supervisor’s desk.
  • We found inconsistencies in the way the Form T196 was stored and how the forms were disposed.
  • When a supervisor attempted to call a taxpayer, we found that most supervisors left a voicemail, if possible, even though the CRA had no written procedures stating that leaving a voicemail was necessary. A taxpayer who did not receive a voicemail would question whether any attempt was made to call them.
  • Call centre agents had a choice of whether they updated the taxpayer’s account with information about the call-back, as the CRA’s procedures manual instructed call centre agents to, “Update the notes on the taxpayer’s file as necessary”. If the taxpayer called again to say they did not receive a call-back from a supervisor, it would be difficult for call centre agents to confirm whether a request was received, whether the call centre agent relayed the request to the supervisor, or whether the supervisor spoke with the taxpayer.  

Throughout our examination and after my office shared its initial findings and recommendations, the CRA made the following changes:

  • The CRA adjusted its policies and procedures to establish more consistent handling of supervisor referrals.
  • The procedures were updated to clearly state the call centre agent must attempt to transfer the call to a technical senior officer or team leader or asupervisor as necessary before preparing Form T196 requesting that a supervisor contact the taxpayer.
  • On October 21, 2013, the CRA changed its information technology system so that all call centre agents could send the Form T196 to their supervisor by email.
  • The CRA updated their procedures to require all Forms T196 to be stored in a specific electronic folder within a centralized, supervisor referral mailbox for two years when they contain identifiable taxpayer information, unless the taxpayer consents to its earlier disposal.
  • The procedures for supervisor call-backs were updated to state that supervisors must make several attempts to call back the taxpayer over the three business days following the request, at different times of the day based on the time zone of the taxpayer, and the supervisor must leave a voicemail if possible.
  • The procedures were updated to clearly state the supervisor must make a note on the taxpayer’s file to specify the date(s) and time(s) he or she tried to reach the taxpayer and he or she must make a note to describe the situation if unable to reach the taxpayer.

Replacing “should” and “as necessary” with a clear “must” in the supervisor and technical senior officer referral policies and procedures eliminates the inconsistencies related to the handling of supervisor call-backs.

We found that whether taxpayers had a service-related complaint or a technical issue, they would ask to speak to a supervisor. We found that taxpayers were confused and not satisfied when call centre agents told taxpayers they were going to be transferred to a technical senior officer because the issue was technical in nature, not service-related. The taxpayers stated they felt that they had been denied access to a supervisor.

The CRA updated its procedures with respect to referring a taxpayer to a technical senior officer. Regardless of the type of enquiry, a taxpayer may speak with a team leader or a supervisor at any time, if he or she wishes to do so. The procedures also highlight the importance of explaining the different responsibilities of a technical senior officer, a team leader, or a supervisor. The call centre agent should inform the taxpayer that technical enquiries can be best resolved by a technical senior officer, a person with the technical knowledge to properly resolve the taxpayer’s issue.

We found that throughout our examination and since reviewing our draft recommendations in our draft report, the CRA implemented significant changes to address the issues raised. The CRA’s written procedures outlining what a call centre agent should do if the caller asks to speak to a supervisor are now much clearer. This makes it possible for the proper procedures to be applied in a more consistent manner, resulting in better service for all taxpayers.

When the CRA receives complaints about gaining access to a supervisor, they deal with each situation. Action taken by the CRA includes coaching the employee on the correct procedures, coaching on managing challenging calls, coaching on communicating with the taxpayer about being put on hold to locate a supervisor, calling back the taxpayer, and apologizing to the taxpayer.

We have concluded that the CRA’s actions adequately address the issues that were identified during our examination. While the CRA and our office continue to receive complaints with respect to access to supervisors, the number of complaints has decreased. We believe that these complaints are isolated incidents and not indicative of a systemic trend. In our review, we are satisfied with the manner with which the CRA is addressing these remaining isolated incidents.

Next steps

A copy of this memorandum will be published on the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman’s website 60 days following its receipt by your office. A summary of our findings may also be included in our 2015-2016 annual report or published in a future newsletter on our website.

Should you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Original signed

Sherra Profit

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