Editorial: More taxing times for small businesses

The Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) customer service function needs an upgrade.

A recent Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report underscores what most small businesses will already know: dealing with the country’s tax revenue agency is frustrating and time-consuming.
The fourth edition of the CFIB’s CRA Call Centre Report Card awards the federal revenue department an overall D grade. That’s down from the mediocre C minus it managed in the organization’s previous report card.
The grade is based on a range of categories, but there are two overriding issues atop the list of concerns for Canadian businesses needing to connect with the CRA.
First, in a lot of cases CRA agents don’t know the answers to frequently asked questions or give the wrong answers to those inquiries.
Second, receiving any answer from a CRA agent remains a test of patience.
The CFIB’s report card found that only 60% of calls to the CRA received a complete response from a front-line agent. That’s down from 69% in 2017.
While the CFIB noted that the CRA’s new phone system has improved callers’ abilities to connect with an agent, it pointed out that too many calls still have to be transferred to senior CRA agents because their front-line counterparts often don’t have the answers to basic questions.
Average time to connect to a frontline agent is now around 15 minutes; average time to reach a senior agent can range up to two hours.
That is far too long by any standard.
But the CRA is not alone.
Its counterpart in the United States also scores failing grades in basic customer service.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service’s 2019 report to Congress notes for example that the Internal Revenue Service is “among the lowest performing federal agencies in providing a positive customer experience.”
Both countries’ internal revenue agencies are likely under-resourced, but the purpose of both is to serve the public, not just extract revenue from it. Senior governments need to be constantly reminded of that.