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Use communication as a trust builder

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Use communication as a trust builder in all contacts and interactions

Use communication as a trust builder in all contacts and interactions Communication can either make or break trust between the taxpayer and the Tax Administration. This goes for all types of communication - information requests, reminders, tax assessments – and for all communication – post, email, call centres, social media, media and face to face meetings. How information is disseminated to taxpayers plays a vital role in the trust-building-process. With information issuing from different areas of the Tax Administration, it is important to consider the tone and content of every communication. Tax Administrations should aim for transparency and consistency. Tax Administrations can learn how to communicate better with taxpayers, and thus increase the level of trust between the parties. This can be achieved by testing different approaches to communication in terms of message, style, channel, and timing and evaluating and learning from the outcomes. Communication is also linked to other guidelines, as it touches upon different facets of a trust-based strategy for a Tax Administration.

4.1 A trust-based communication strategy

Every time a Tax Administration and a taxpayer communicate it should be in accordance with a well oriented communication strategy aligned with the organisational strategy. The officer communicating with the taxpayer should at all-times consider the effect that that communication has on the Tax Administration’s level of trust in the community. This is not confined to customer service interactions but also includes actions regarding audit and enforcement. Tax Administrations should evaluate their communications in terms of understanding, emotions and compliance. Behavioural experiments that test the effect on trust will assist Tax Administrations understand how communication is perceived and how it affects taxpayers’ behaviour and beliefs.

4.2 Clear and understandable language

All communications should be clear and easy to understand. Simplified messages have a better chance of achieving the desired outcome by informing the taxpayer, in language they can understand, and therefore positively influencing the taxpayers’ behaviour. Correspondence should be concise and to the point and should bridge the gap between the Tax Administration and the taxpayer.

Complex tax laws and the use of tax jargon has often led to miscommunication and misinterpretation. A good trust-based communication strategy can succeed in translating technical and complex tax matters into understandable information that can be understood by the taxpayer. Simplifying tax processes and letters have proved to strengthen the different facets of tax compliance.

4.3 Make it clear that the Tax Administration supports compliant behaviour

A Tax Administration’s actions should assist and support taxpayers to comply with their tax obligations. Trust can be built by notifying taxpayers of audits and being transparent on why controls are conducted. Interventions to tackle non-compliance should be framed in a way that they are actions to protect the compliant majority and to ensure fair competition in the economy. For this reason, the tone of any communication is important as showing empathy and understanding will help make taxpayers feel respected, even if the message is not in their favour. The message should be one where the Tax Administration is assisting taxpayers to comply, in the interest of the wider community.

4.4 Look at the taxpayer as a trustworthy actor

The majority of taxpayers want to do the right thing and pay their fair share. Clear communication and behavioural techniques can be used to assist taxpayers to comply with their tax obligations. Tax Administrations should consider innovative ways of communication, that are designed to influence taxpayer behaviour. These communications should focus on how the Tax Administration can help and support the taxpayer rather than what sanctions apply for non-compliance. Tax Administrations must provide clarity on what a taxpayer is to do and how to do it and could include references to the social norms. Tax Administrations could work with different customer groups, perhaps based on their background, past behaviour or specific needs.

Tax Administrations should try to engage with taxpayers as early as possible to help them to do the right thing and avoid unintentional mistakes. In addition, taxpayers could be allowed to correct mistakes where there is no indication of deliberate or recurring faults. It is important not to crowd out intrinsic motivation to comply, with standard hard-tone messages.

4.5 Make the public aware that you are available and accessible

Taxpayers expect high levels of service from public sector organisations including Tax Administrations. Tax issues can arise at any time and can put a lot of pressure and stress on a taxpayer. Support and assistance should be tailored to the needs of the taxpayer. Easy access and availability of tax services will enhance trust with the Tax Administrations.

Response times should be clear and defined. Call centres, face to face appointments and online service desks should be easily available, reasonable and in line with the expectations of the taxpayer. New and innovative ways of communication, such as chatbots, social media or YouTube channels have been put in place, in some jurisdictions, to strengthen the customer service offerings. On the other hand, a reduced level of physical customer service and an increased level of non-physical customer service highlights the need to analyse how this shift in taxpayer behaviours affects trust to ensure that a Tax Administration does not lose the ‘personal’ touch. When Tax Administrations are accessible to taxpayers, they show that they are there to help and support taxpayers and this can have a positive impact on trust.

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