I recently stumbled upon an old photo showing a long and meandering queue of taxpayers outside Times Tower, Nairobi, waiting to submit their annual tax returns. Although the photo is not dated, it could have been years back before the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) automated filing of tax returns.
The long queue could have meant two things. It was either the last day or a few days to end of June when submission of annual tax returns falls due. The situation in that photo got me wondering, what would have happened if submission of annual tax returns was still manual at this time when physical engagements have been restricted as part of the Covid-19 containment measures?
Would this have called for taxpayers to line up at KRA offices in shifts to submit their tax returns? How safe would this have been for the taxpayers and KRA staff?
Thankfully, the iTax system is in place. iTax is a self-service system that enables taxpayers to conduct tax business such as personal identification number (PIN) registration, tax payment, ledger maintenance, application for tax compliance certificates and waiver application, among others.
Taxpayers can do all these from the comfort of their homes or offices. The iTax system is especially handy at this moment when taxpayers are filing their 2020 annual tax returns. It minimises physical engagements which go a long way in helping flatten the curve.
The iTax system and other technological platforms installed to enhance tax administration are complemented by a robust virtual customer service support system. The platform, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution is a one-stop-shop platform for customer engagements on various tax issues. The CRM solution provides a wide range of virtual engagement options such as calls, chats, emails and social media.
As alluded to earlier, the significance of process automation has never been more of a necessity than when Covid-19 struck and forced us to adapt to a new normal. Before the pandemic struck, digitisation was not a priority for many organisations and companies as a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company shows.
According to the study dubbed, How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point — and transformed business forever, respondents indicated that automation of processes was not among top priorities prior to Covid-19. The study further indicates that the acceleration in the uptake of technology has brought a different mindset for executives who no longer see technology as a cost-saving tool but one for refocusing their business models around digital technologies. This is an important aspect given that the success of any transformation journey at the corporate level, is heavily dependent on the blessings of the top leadership.
Historically, transformation of customer support frameworks through automation has always come last. In some cases, whether to automate the customer support framework or not is deemed optional. But looking at the situation the pandemic has put us in, corporate bodies heavily reliant on traditional customer engagement methods have dedicated more resources to transformation. The pandemic has, for instance, forced corporate bodies into spaces such as social media platforms where customers are encouraged to engage on. This period has also probably seen the highest number of contact centres established.
Looking at the transformation brought by the pandemic, it is clear that indeed the customer is king. Whatever measures corporate bodies are putting in place to remain afloat, the customer is clearly the centre of their focus. It is all about how to best serve the customer even if this is to be done virtually.
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In addition to ensuring business continuity and enhancing efficiency, automation of customer support frameworks is a primary source of big data which is crucial in decision making. Data on customer habits and preferences, for instance, is invaluable.
A key lesson is that automation or digitisation of the customer support frameworks should no longer be optional. It should be prioritised and treated as an integral function.
The writer, Grace Wandera, is the head of marketing and communication at KRA.