HMRC Helpline closures threaten to create a ‘customer care void’
Following news that HMRC plans to shut more helplines and cut phone line access by almost a third by the end of 2024, Louise Walpole from Moneypenny warns a void in customer care could be on the horizon.
Moneypenny provides outsourced call handling and live chat support to more than 21,000 businesses across the UK, including hundreds of financial services and accounting firms, and knows the importance of accessible and professional customer care all too well.
Louise Walpole, head of the finance sector at Moneypenny, said: “The closure of HMRC helplines is worrying news for business owners and accountants, many of whom are still reeling from the sudden closure of the self-assessment helpline in the summer.
“HMRC’s motivation might be to drive people to use online services, but it’s a mistake to think that reducing phone access won’t have a tremendous impact. There’s a real risk of a customer care void, especially as HMRC’s legacy IT systems could hamper their efforts to move phone support online.
“We have to remember that helplines exist for a reason: because people need help and, crucially, because they need and want to speak to a person. Shutting helplines to meet service levels is contradictory. Making more support available online is positive, but it must maintain the human touch that is so important to query resolution.
“Even though HMRC has highlighted that several million callers’ needs could be serviced digitally due to their relative simplicity, there will be plenty of more complex needs that won’t be met. We expect this decision to spark heightened demand for accountancy support, creating thousands of telephone calls and website visits as business owners seek help. Accountants will have to fill the void left by the HMRC.”
A move to more digital provision will likely see greater use of tools such as live chat, which is highly effective in triaging enquiries in real time. The challenge for HMRC will be ensuring the right technical and customer care expertise is available to manage enquiries competently and efficiently.
Louise added: “ Many interactions with HMRC are because people have complex needs. When you funnel all these needs towards digital channels, having the right blend of people and technology becomes even more critical. That means offering clear, easy-to-understand information on the website so that people can self-serve, as well as live chat delivered by well-informed people.
“HMRC’s chat handlers will need time and patience to deal with enquiries properly, not to mention plenty of empathy and, of course, the right technical expertise to find solutions. Ideally, they’ll also be available outside traditional office hours – as we know, that’s when live chat is its most popular. Without these attributes and measures, these online conversations will still turn into calls, putting further demand on HMRC.”
She concluded: “Customer care is evolving. Digital tools can deliver greater accessibility, immediacy and efficiency, but they can’t be at the cost of the human touch. HMRC needs an effective blend of digital and self-serve options and the human touch so that people can choose how they communicate. The closure of helplines is a real loss for people-led customer care. Now, all eyes will be fixed on HMRC to see whether its digital transition is up to the job.”