Although the Canada Revenue Agency promised that a new phone system would fix problems at its business call centre months ago, wait times have increased and 40 per cent of the answers employees give are either wrong or incomplete according to a new report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). It found the average time people spent on hold waiting to speak with agents was much longer though the number of busy signals and dropped calls to CRA’s business inquiries phone system was down.
Corinne Pohlmann, the CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs said: “You had to wait on line so long to get an answer from CRA, and once you did get an answer, only about 60 per cent of the time was the answer actually complete and correct.”
CFIB’s last audit of the service in 2016 showed it took an average of two minutes for a caller to reach a frontline agent. However, this year it took 15 minutes on average, with the longest recorded wait being 40 minutes. The caller in that case gave up and ended the call.
Callers to the business inquiries line first speak to a frontline CRA agent. The call is redirected to a senior CRA agent if the first one can’t answer a caller’s questions. This latest audit found it took about an hour on average to get in touch with a senior agent with the longest wait being two hours — up from 15 minutes in the 2016 audit.
While CRA’s new service standard for its call centre says 65 per cent of callers should reach an agent within 15 minutes, the CFIB’s newest audit found that only happened 59 per cent of the time.
The report gave the CRA’s business inquiry service a D, down from the C- it got in the last audit.
The good news was a big improvement in the number of callers able to get through to the call centre. In 2016, the CFIB found that 28 percent of callers couldn’t reach the call centre at all, because of busy signals or blocked calls. In 2019, that rate had dropped to 9 per cent. However too many wrong answers didn’t help.
According to the new report, of the 101 calls resolved over the audit period, 60 per cent ended with callers receiving complete or above-and-beyond guidance, while 28 per cent received incomplete information and 13 per cent received incorrect information from CRA agents.
The questions the agents got wrong most often dealt with the rules for consultants who work across the country applying the GST or HST. The report revealed that 23 per cent of those calls saw CRA agents provide the wrong answers to callers’ questions and in 30 per cent of calls the answers were incomplete. Agents got those questions right 30 per cent of the time.
Also, only 64 per cent answered an Employment Insurance question accurately and only 50 per cent gave correct and complete answers on capital cost allowances.
The auditors rated 51 per cent of the completed calls as “good” in terms of professionalism, while 28 per cent were “deemed acceptable.” But 21 per cent were rated as poor — twice as much as in previous years, the audit said.
The audit also assessed the information available on the CRA’s website, saying the agency should be using plainer, easier-to-understand language.
Etienne Biram, spokesman for the CRA, said it has launched a plan to improve call centre service.
“The CRA is already working on improvements, such as informing callers of the estimated wait times for transferred calls, and a callback feature for callers to keep their priority in the queue without staying on hold,” he wrote. “We are also making continuous improvements to our web content and will soon introduce a chatbot to help make it easier for Canadians to find information online.”
The audit report, by authors Tina Barton and Michelle Auger, is based on 200 calls made between June 3 and June 28. It’s the fourth such audit the CFIB has conducted on the CRA’s business inquiries phone service, and the first since the CRA introduced a new phone system last year in an attempt to improve the service. -CINEWS