Online tax collection activities inherently require significant amounts of customer service and support. Currently, the most common means of handling queries is with a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. But increasingly, revenue departments are turning to customer relationship management (CRM) to meet service demands.

While the definition of CRM is still vague, the idea is to combine technologies in such a way as to allow easy communication between constituent and government so that questions get answered and problems get solved. According to Jonathon Lyon of the Federation of Tax Administrators, CRM is beginning to catch on among revenue departments conducting online tax collection services. "As governments move into more transactional stuff, they need to have a way to respond to inquiries," he said.

CRM at Work

In Maryland, citizens who have questions about filing their taxes online can post the question on the states Web page and get an e-mailed response within 24 hours.

"Weve only been getting e-mail for a couple of years but ... its grown substantially and quickly," said Jim Arnie, director of Marylands Revenue Administration Division. "Its probably a lot easier for an individual to come home at night and key in a question as opposed to sending off a letter in the mail. Taxpayers are using the technology, so you have to stay abreast of it and give them the services," he said.

According to Michael Golden, deputy director of communications for Maryland, the e-mail correspondence has "outstripped our snail-mail three-to-one." However, the current system for responding to e-mail involves manually reviewing the letters. The state will eventually graduate to a more sophisticated system which will automatically direct a customer inquiry to a specific individual within the department, depending on the content of the inquiry.

"It would give us a better way to measure the type of job were doing," he said. "You can specialize more. If you have five letters a year on estate tax, you dont start scrambling to find somebody to handle them; the system can direct it right to the person who handles estate tax."

Pennsylvania has been using Quintus Mustang Messaging Center to handle customer service demands for more than a year. According to Tom Van Kirk, Department of Revenue research analyst, the department has cut its response times in half and is answering 50 percent more e-mail than it used to. The Department of Revenue has 75 licenses or "seats" that constitute the messaging center.

When the Mustang Messaging Center receives an incoming e-mail, it sends out an automatic acknowledgement to the sender. It then sends the query through the system, which includes a variety of scripts to determine which agent it should go to. At that point, the system puts the message into a pool of other messages on the agents desktop. The agent answers the e-mail and sends it back to the citizen with the agencys common e-mail address.

"We havent really seen any change in the number of telephone calls that were receiving," Van Kirk said. "But I think thats a situation where we had maxed our phone capabilities to begin with so we really didnt have a true benchmark of what our telephone capacity was."

Van Kirk said the goal is to eventually get to the point where the phone calls stop coming in altogether. "We simply have the ability to answer the question more thoroughly via e-mail, and its also a benefit to the taxpayers because they get a written response."

So far, Pennsylvanias CRM program is limited to the Department of Revenue, but that could change, according to Van Kirk. "Right now, we are in a state of limbo. Our overseeing bodies in the government are looking at a solution for the entire commonwealth, which may go beyond e-mail and may include chat

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor