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Australian Tax Office opens up social media channels

01 September 2014 | 05:42 am

Today, Australian Tax Officials will come to work, switch on their computers and for the very first time be able to access social media sites online including Facebook. Twitter and Linked In.  It comes following a move by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to modernise the tax service and facilitate communication with customers through a ‘channel of their choice’ policy.

The Brisbane Times published excerpts from an internal memo sent to over 23,000 tax officials by Chris Jordan, the Commissioner of Taxation stating "Increasingly, people are using these channels to communicate socially as well as professionally - to connect with people, share ideas and best practice, and build their networks. If we are to deliver a contemporary client experience, it's important that we interact with our clients through channels of their choice."

The article also refers to the nervousness historically of social media thanks to what it described as ‘high profile indiscretions’.

Firstly, we applaud ATO and would like to officially welcome them to the world of social media, engagement and compliance!

Closer to home here in the UK, our own tax office HMRC boasts a more established social media presence.  In addition to the HMRC press office twitter there are a handful of social media channels including a twitter account for SMEs, a Youtube channel, a Facebook Page for the graduate programme and blog posts for tax agents.

The HMRC website states:

“HMRC uses social media to share useful information, and engage with people, where we believe this helps our customers and helps us to deliver our objectives.”

In comparing the approach of HMRC to the aspiration of ATO we have two observations.

1) Information dissemination v customer service response: The HMRC channel appears to disseminate information and signpost rather than providing the customer service ‘channel of choice’ engagement that the ATO hopes to achieve.

The website states:

“In general, we prefer not to send or receive private or direct messages to keep conversations open and public.”

The reference to ‘we prefer’ does indicate less of a customer centric approach.  Other public facing services, such as the police have already embraced the idea that in today’s digital world, some members of the public simply prefer to do things via social media (and some do want a little privacy about it in the form of direct messaging).

So the current approach by HMRC ticks the boxes in terms of having a presence but whether genuine engagement is being achieved is questionable. We would certainly expect the HMRC to boast a few more followers across the array of social media assets that it owns.  But it is hard to built rapport and followers when you set out your stall so strongly in terms of supporting your own preferred delivery approach.

The bottom line is that change is afoot in customer service delivery. People are choosing to message over emailing and the traditional backbone of any website – the FAQs section - is rapidly being replaced with a visit to a public forum to ask for help!

Increasingly, people are feeling less inclined to phone a help centre, putting themselves at risk of being put on hold or racking up phone charges. Ultimately, the public want to tweet or Facebook at a time that is convenient to them.

2) Resourcing effectively to deliver customer centric approaches. The HMRC clearly have a focus on social media with their own HMRC digital engagement team at the helm. But are they resourced effectively to deal with the new channels of customer communication?

The website states:

“….due to resource constraints we will not always be able to reply individually to messages we receive.

We are very fortunate at CrowdControlHQ to work with very progressive organisations, many of whom have taken the plunge to ensure that communication via social media is resourced effectively.

And whilst it may be a difficult decision to scale back the resources invested into a traditional customer call centre to increase the number of social media savvy customer service response team, it is clear that increasingly more organisations will follow suit to ensure that they can be at the leading edge of customer service delivery.

And the ‘resource’ issue is much more palatable to hear than the ‘trust’ issue which often sits hand in hand with resource. Not many organsiations will say that the real reason for not upping their game is that they do not trust their staff or live in fear of their brand reputation being left in tatters from indiscretion.

Thankfully, there are products like CrowdControlHQ that are supporting organisations on both the resource AND the trust issue.

Tackling the issue of resource

In relation to resources, social media management tools are so sophisticated these days that they allow for ‘listening’ across an array of social media accounts, automatically flagging and forwarding messages based on content to the correct department for action.  The central dashboard and campaign approach means that no message should be left unanswered in the deepest, darkest depths of a Facebook page and there is an easy trail to follow if a member of the helpdesk is off or on holiday.

So today, there really is no excuse to have ‘manual’ management in a resource heavy way (i.e. directly having to log in and out of each social media channels) in place.  This approach ultimately leads to more time spent in ‘admin’ mode and less time spent dealing with the customer service issue itself.

Tackling the issue of trust

A social media risk management tool supports an organisation in staying on message, helping those who represent the brand to contribute to the customer service approach, with audit trails to record and check brand consistency to ally the fears of the board or shareholders about brand reputation.

Accounts can be accessible with the safety net of checks and balances to protect the brand, ensuring that no individual employee has the passwords or potential to run off with the organsiations social media accounts.

In summary, two very different approaches to social media and we will certainly be watching with interest as the ATO social media approach gets underway.

We must not forget that the challenges faced by HMRC and the Australian equivalent ATO mirror those of every customer facing organisation.  There is much to be learnt, much to be shared in terms of best practice and we wish the ATO great success with their new approach to customer service delivery.

CrowdControlHQ is the UK’s leading social media risk management and compliance platform, built for enterprise.

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