HMRC’s voice recognition tele-service needs improvements

An assessment of HMRC’s new voice recognition telephone system shows that it keeps callers on the line for too long, with the machine ‘discussing’ web addresses and available guidance ‘in the hope that the caller will hang-up to and thereby end the call’, the Low Income Tax Reform Group says

The LITRG has published scathing findings following tests it carried out to gauge the effectiveness of the system – which replaced the ‘press-button’ system last year -for unrepresented taxpayers.

What the LITRG found most alarming ‘was the fact that if we did want to speak to an adviser having managed to get through the ITA process, then often our calls were placed in a queue with waiting times encountered of anything up to 21 minutes. In addition, many calls received the “busy signal” or were cut-off while in mid-hold, especially so during busy times or at the end of the day.’

The LITRG found that callers with speech or hearing difficulties, or those who do not have English as a first language, may struggle with the new service as it relies on an oral explanation of the query within a given timeframe and specific ‘buzz words’ understood by the machine. The LITRG says that this could result in a lengthy call as the machine continues to question the caller to direct the caller to the right place. In some test calls, the LITRG was asked as many as 11 questions before being connected through to an adviser.

HMRC introduced the new system, , Intelligent Telephony Automation (ITA), to their main telephone helplines at the end of 2013, with the intention of replacing the press-button options previously used to help callers get to the right part of HMRC to deal with their query.

On the whole, the LITRG reported that only 40% of the calls made could be judged as having a ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’ customer experience.

Ahead of HMRC’s first ‘update’ of the ITA system in the summer, the LITRG has provided a list of recommendations which it hopes will be considered and implemented.

These include offering all callers the option of using a keypad instead of a spoken word at the start of a call; offering the choice to go straight to an adviser much sooner if a caller is found to be struggling; improving system capacity; and adequate staffing.

The LITRG is also conducting a survey about the new system to help make further recommendations to HMRC for improvements to the system.

The survey is available at

More details are available at

Diane Tan |Content manager - current awareness, CCH

Diane Tan is content manager, current awareness at CCH, Wolters Kluwer UK

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