Michigan answers a calling

With tax season in full swing, Michigan's Treasury Department recently launched

a state-of-the-art centralized call center for its individual and business

taxpayers, the first step in a much larger around-the-clock electronic customer

service offering.

Developed by Accenture using Siebel Systems Inc. software, the system

allows customer service agents to instantly pull up a caller's tax records

when an inquiry is made. The system can track frequently asked questions

and collect and analyze other information designed to improve responsiveness.

"Previously, the state had no statistical data [on] why people call,"

said Roger Dooley, an Accenture partner who worked on the project. "They

had anecdotal data."

The new system will integrate the state's interactive voice response

system and Web site later this year, and information collected will be used

to improve self-service over those channels, said David Gilliland, the Treasury

Department's project manager. "We want to create a multichannel contact

customer center...so answers are consistent no matter what channel" is used,

he said, adding that staffing hasn't been increased but current employees

will be used more effectively.

Annually, the department (www.michigan.gov/treasury) handles about 2

million calls from individual taxpayers — 60 percent through the automated

system and 40 percent to the call center — and about 300,000 to 400,000

business tax inquiries, he said. The department also receives about 250,000

pieces of correspondence. In the past two years, e-mail requests have been

steadily rising without any encouragement from the state, he added. Peak

season runs from February through May.

The department will also develop an authentication system to provide

secure information via the Web site to users who send e-mail inquiries.

Officials also plan to provide public-key infrastructure technology for

tax preparers and other agents who need to access multiple tax records.

The project actually began in late 1999, said David Borzenski, the department's

chief information officer, when officials began looking to re-engineer business

processes. They hired Deloitte Consulting, which identified a handful of

major initiatives, including centralizing and improving the department's

call center.

In existence for more than a dozen years, the center dealt primarily

with individual state income taxpayers. Business tax filers had to deal

with several layers — for example, sales or motor fuel tax divisions —

within the department to get their questions answered, he said.

Department officials collaborated with call center agents to look at

improving overall service. After choosing Siebel's software, they signed

Accenture to an eight-year, $10 million contract. The company implemented

the system in four months, culminating in a three-day pilot in December.

The system went live Jan. 29.

By year's end, the call center database, which currently contains two

years' worth of individual taxpayer information, will contain data for all

of the two dozen or so tax records the state assesses and collects, Dooley

said, adding that Michigan may have the most comprehensive center in the

country.

"To our knowledge, this is the broadest set of capabilities any state

has implemented in terms of taxpayer customer service," Dooley said.

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