HMRC research into customer experiences of intelligent telephony automation

HMRC published, on 13 July 2017, a research report, commissioned by HMRC and conducted by Ipsos Mori, which explored perceptions of ITA (Intelligent Telephony Automation) on HMRC helplines.

The research was qualitative rather than quantitative in nature and involved in depth interviews with 45 individuals. The key findings were:

  1. “Some simple queries can be resolved by ITA but satisfaction depends on the nature of the query. In most cases, customers believe their query requires a tailored response and only feel satisfied once their expectations are met and they have spoken with an adviser.
  2. HMRC cannot assume all customers who disconnect during ITA have had their query resolved. Generally, customers who disconnect themselves following an ITA message call again immediately - although there is evidence of customers attempting to self-serve and resolving their query without calling. It is clear that customers often attempt to circumvent the system and get through to an adviser, by disconnecting during ITA and calling back in order to try and route themselves more effectively.
  3. Customers often go online prior to making a call to the helpline. The ITA messages have limited success in encouraging customers to self-serve by another channel; customers go online or carry out instructions as a result of the ITA messages, but many call back again having been unable to resolve their query in this way.”

The report included suggestions on what an ideal ITA system would look like, based on the experiences of interviewees:

  • Targeted or simple queries: The suitability of ITA depends on the nature of their query – customers who consider their queries to be simple or unimportant or those seeking reassurance are more open to ITA, whereas customers who are ‘panicked’ or ‘frustrated’ and see their query as urgent are less open.
  • Short and easy to use: The ITA will be quick (no longer than 5 minutes ideally) and will be easy to use - with voice technology suitable for all and the option to input information if issues occur.
  • Clear options including ‘other’ option: The ITA information options should be very clear and route customers towards a tailored response. It needs to be able to support those who are unsure or unclear how to answer to prevent disconnection and multiple calls.
  • More specific instructions when directed online: The ITA messages should offer sufficient information to enable customers to self-serve effectively where applicable, for example by providing specific instructions on where to go online, how to set up a PTA, guidance on what to ask their employer and potentially offer options for support on how to carry out the instructions given. This is especially important for those who have already attempted to self serve, but have been unable to do so.
  • No unexpected disconnection: Customers would ideally be warned before a disconnection occurred and have the chance to confirm their query had been resolved satisfactorily beforehand.
  • No repetition of information: Where customers need to be referred to an adviser, any information provided during ITA would be passed on. Messages referring customers to self-serve, should only be played to each customer once during the call.

Members in practice have expressed frustration about messages on helplines being too long, particularly messages directing callers to go online when this has already been tried or is not an option for the query concerned. Please comment below on any experiences, good or bad, with ITA.

  • If I make a telephone call it is because I have a problem and want to speak to a human being.  Nothing less is acceptable and the last thing I want is to be repeatably told about some web page when I do not want to use a computer.  Many, if not most, taxpayers are either elderly or not computer literate or they are busy people who just want a quick and immediate answer from someone who can be expected to know what they are talking about.  If they get given a list of options or are put through to a computer they just hang up.  The only option they should have is to be put through directly to an adviser who can then redirect it immediately to another adviser if the question is beyond their capability to answer.