Michigan answers a calling
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Mar 21, 2002
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
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
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
"To our knowledge, this is the broadest set of capabilities any state
has implemented in terms of taxpayer customer service," Dooley said.