HMRC disabled its web chat – but what was the impact? Moneypenny’s Louise Wilson explores

Louise Wilson, Head of Financial Sector at Moneypenny. Photo by Ginger Pixie Photography.

On 4 January, HMRC disabled its webchat support for three months, stating the service has “proven to be inefficient for supporting customers with complex queries”. According to the tax department’s analysis, PAYE coding queries took 84% longer to resolve via webchat than over the phone, while child benefit payment queries and VAT registrations took 50% longer.

With the 31 January self-assessment tax deadline so close though, was it rational to make such a drastic change to the tax department’s communications channels? The answer, according to Louise Wilson, Head of Financial Sector at leading outsourced communications provider, Moneypenny, is no.

She said: “This is a bold move from HMRC – especially at a time when people are ever more reliant upon digital communications. It’s not always convenient to make a phone call and busy individuals have neither the time nor the patience to wait on hold when seeking professional assistance.

“That’s not to say that web chat is always the most appropriate channel to solve complex issues but it’s a vital comms tool for people to begin their enquiry journey.”

HMRC’s web chats are handled by a bot unless the enquirer specifically requests to be transferred to an adviser – if any are available at the time.

“In certain scenarios, issues can only be resolved with the support of a human and a chat bot simply won’t cut it. However, for time-poor professionals, the option to log an enquiry and be pointed in the direction of extra support or useful online resources is invaluable. As the filing deadline approaches, organisation and efficiency are even more of a priority and having to totally depend on a lengthy phone call simply isn’t realistic.”

Web chat has the power to efficiently triage enquiries by identifying requirements and directing people to the most appropriate next stage.

“The instant nature of web chat is what has made it so popular with consumers. Years of dealing with call centres and experiences of being kept on hold, passed around to different departments or even being lost in the system, have all contributed to many people preferring digital communication. Consumers perceive online chat services to be efficient and many appreciate the opportunity to ask quick questions, right there and then, whilst browsing online. Others simply prefer not to talk on the phone and those who are accustomed to communicating via text often favour the messenger-style experience web chat offers.”

Louise concluded: “What’s more, life admin such as dealing with taxes isn’t always a task that falls into the 9-5 and people value the 24/7/365 nature of web chat. They may find that they need to make a call the next day to get the answers they need but it’s a comfort to be able to get the ball rolling. Quality customer support is paramount and providing this via a range of channels would demonstrate that HMRC cares and is committed to adapting its service to suit the varied needs and preferences of individuals.”

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