What Could The IRS Do To Improve Its Brand Reputation?

What can the IRS learn from the TSA, the air­line indus­try, and Tur­b­o­Tax?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

The Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice does­n’t rank among Amer­i­cans’ favorite agen­cies at any time of year, but that anti-IRS sen­ti­ment is per­haps most promi­nent dur­ing tax sea­son as con­sumers strug­gle to make sense of their tax­es. For its part, the IRS is using Twit­ter to push out con­tent like #IRSTax­Tips to per­haps ease that pain. In fact, a page on the IRS web­site lists the var­i­ous plat­forms it uses and what kind of con­tent it pro­vides for tax pro­fes­sion­als in par­tic­u­lar. But the rep­u­ta­tion remains.

What could the IRS poten­tial­ly imple­ment for the 2016 tax sea­son to pro­vide more use­ful con­tent and to per­haps bet­ter its rep­u­ta­tion among Amer­i­can con­sumers in the process? Today, to mark the U.S. tax fil­ing dead­line, let’s explore what the IRS can learn from agen­cies and brands in oth­er indus­tries that also aren’t well-liked by con­sumers – or at least not wide­ly adored.


Andy Beal, CEO of social media mon­i­tor­ing tool Track­ur, points to anoth­er agency that doesn’t always have the best rep­u­ta­tion among con­sumers: The Trans­porta­tion Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion.

It would cer­tain­ly be an uphill bat­tle for the IRS to improve its rep­u­ta­tion. The best place to start would be to demon­strate that it has learned valu­able lessons from the recent scan­dals that have plagued it,” Beal said. “I would also sug­gest it takes a look at its fed­er­al cousin, the TSA. They have made an admirable job of per­son­al­iz­ing their depart­ment by the use of their blog.”

The Cable & Air­line Indus­tries

For his part, Jason Chan, group direc­tor of mobile and social plat­form at RGA, points to oth­er brands that “suf­fer from a lot of cus­tomer ser­vice abuse,” like cable com­pa­nies or air­lines.

They take a lot abuse on Twit­ter in par­tic­u­lar from angry cus­tomers because their flights have been can­celed or there’s huge delays and no one is respond­ing to them. And cable com­pa­nies are doing lots of real­ly crazy things with down time and not get­ting back to cus­tomers in an accept­able man­ner,” Chan said. “There’s just lots of neg­a­tive things and cer­tain indus­tries that have an over­all neg­a­tive image, what ends up hap­pen­ing is con­sumers take to social to vent and com­plain. In those busi­ness­es, you kind of have to expect that.”

Chan’s best advice for the IRS, which may find itself in a sim­i­lar boat this time of year? Make lemon­ade out of lemons.

He points to KLM as an air­line brand that has a strong cus­tomer ser­vice depart­ment that can “han­dle pret­ty much any request that comes in through Face­book and Twit­ter.”

That means the brand can deal with prob­lems 24 hours a day.

They have tak­en what would tra­di­tion­al­ly be a chan­nel where con­sumers com­plain to a poten­tial rev­enue stream and way to mar­ket them­selves,” Chan said. “By invest­ing heav­i­ly in social, they can han­dle dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions that con­sumers have. There’s fore­sight from senior lead­er­ship to use it in pos­i­tive ways rather than just for cus­tomer ser­vice. If more brands adopt­ed [that strat­e­gy], they could shift the per­cep­tion of the indus­try around.”

Chan sug­gests the IRS try to use social in a more pos­i­tive way, such as pro­mot­ing chat ses­sions with a series around spe­cif­ic top­ics like cap­i­tal gains tax­es.

They could say, ‘We’ll host a one-hour forum on Twit­ter on Thurs­day and you can ask any ques­tions and we’ll have experts on hand,’” Chan said. “[The IRS could have] a real­ly focused con­ver­sa­tion about the top­ic on top of people’s minds. One way to change per­cep­tion is by being help­ful and proactive…and these are real­ly the sort of straight­for­ward and basic tac­tics around things they can do.”


Chan also sug­gests the IRS could do more to help demys­ti­fy all of the changes in the tax code every year.

One good thing Tur­b­o­Tax does is it sum­ma­rizes the changes for con­sumers upfront,” Chan said. “That’s some­thing the IRS deter­mines them­selves. There’s no rea­son they couldn’t do it, too.”

The IRS could also do more to help con­sumers deter­mine which tax form to file, Chan said. That would give the brand an oppor­tu­ni­ty to help con­sumers at the very out­set.

At the same time, how­ev­er, the approach must be sim­ple and easy to use.

There’s def­i­nite­ly poten­tial for the IRS to do some­thing inter­est­ing in regard to chang­ing per­cep­tion and be more proac­tive about it,” Chan said. “They could cre­ate more con­tent that is less tech­ni­cal in nature and sim­pler to digest.

One way to do that might also be to use info­graph­ics, Chan said. That’s because they take com­plex data or trends and break it down into a man­ner that is easy to under­stand. He sug­gests the IRS con­sid­er info­graph­ics around top­ics like how quick­ly con­sumers get their refunds in the first two months of the year ver­sus the last two months of the fil­ing peri­od.

That’s anoth­er thing the IRS can help do to help change its per­cep­tion,” Chan said. “[The IRS has] all this data. They just need to pack­age it in a way that makes it appeal­ing and shift the per­cep­tions.”

If the IRS spent time think­ing about what resources it has on hand and how it could be use­ful, it could demys­ti­fy some com­plex top­ics for con­sumers, which would be a great place to start.

The rea­son I bring up Tur­b­o­Tax is because they make what is a pret­ty mun­dane and bor­ing and frus­trat­ing task very sim­ple and they almost make you feel like, ‘I enjoyed doing that,’” Chan said. “Every year, I time myself and it gets short­er every year and I cred­it them with under­stand­ing my sce­nario.”

He sug­gests IRS fol­low TurboTax’s lead and ask con­sumers small ques­tions along the way that help refine the pic­ture of what their tax sit­u­a­tion is.

They’re the ones who are essen­tial­ly cre­at­ing the tax code. Instead of pub­lish­ing a list of changes in a way that requires an accoun­tant to deci­pher, they could trans­late it and [make] that con­tent more digestible for the layper­son.”

In addi­tion, Chan sug­gests the IRS do some social lis­ten­ing and proac­tive­ly answer ques­tions on Twit­ter or do a Red­dit AMA with dif­fer­ent employ­ees at the IRS.

There’s lots of dif­fer­ent avenues,” he said.

Your turn: what do you think the IRS can do to improve its brand rep­u­ta­tion?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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