On hold with HMRC about tax issues? Maybe try tweeting them

The rise of social media as a communication tool has meant that businesses large and small have had to come to terms with the medium, or risk the marketing backlash.

New positions such as social media managers have been created in an effort to make sure no complaint made via social media goes ignored, with consumers never more than a click of a mouse or swipe of a smartphone away from making their feelings heard.

Now though, HMRC has encouraged those calling though to its customer service hotline to consider using 140 characters to get their enquiries sorted.

Figures from HRMC show that on top of over one third of calls not being picked up, the average waiting time now stands at nearly 11 minutes. This is up from five minutes at the same point in 2013.

The organisation has now pointed to its fairly new @HMRCcustomers Twitter handle in an attempt to deal with the increased flow of calls in the lead up to the self assessment deadline at the end of January.

Despite HMRC being a government organisation, the move has attracted criticism from MPs – although most in the opposition camp – who have labelled it as “laughable”.

As Real Business explored in our “How to solve customer complaints though various social media platforms” feature in December, 99 per cent of brands are now engaged with Twitter.

The article cited baby products business Graco as a good example of dealing with customer complaints after it had to recall 1.5m prams in 2010. With a plan in place and details on when repair kits would be sent out or which products were part of the recall, the business received support from mothers.

Kate Marshland from ShoppingMama.com said of the Twitter response at the time: “It’s definitely easier than getting on the phone and calling a number when you have kids running around and making noise in the background.”

Criticism levied against HMRC in 2012 led to a £900m investment in customer service. However, HMRC has failed to deal with growing telephone wait times and will have its own media storm to deal with in the fall out of the Twitter suggestion.

Many commenting on the issue have expressed the view that any enquiry relating to a tax code running into the tens of thousands of pages is unlikely to be able to be communicated in 140 characters or less. Comments have also been made about HMRC’s reluctance to field emails from tax payers.

As a government body which has less concerns when it comes to protecting a brand, it remains to be seen whether the inevitable increase in Twitter questions will be properly dealt with.

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