Why customer inclusion is vital in tax administration

By Grace Wandera

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) marked the taxpayers’ month celebrations last month (October) – and it was about how to improve their customers’ experience and what makes the KRA brand excellent. 

This year’s theme, “leaving no one behind,” provokes exciting thoughts. Given that the payment of taxes is a civic responsibility of every citizen, the question of who can be left behind lingers. The framers of the Constitution of Kenya, promulgated in 2010, anticipated this factor when they rightfully placed the citizen at the centre of governance. The constitution acknowledges patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy, and participation of the people as national values and principles of governance. 

Consequently, the constitution has empowered citizens to demand greater transparency and accountability from public institutions. But, perhaps, the most consequential provision in our context is in Article 232(1) (d) and (f), which stipulate the values and principles of public service, including “involvement of the people in the process of policymaking and transparency and provision to the public of timely, accurate information.” The aim is to adopt customer-led strategies to enhance service delivery in the public sector.

An analysis of the customer journey over the years indicates that the taxpayer increasingly demands excellent and convenient service delivery and education on new tax policies and processes. Similarly, the adoption of technology empowers customers with the ability to choose their preferred service platform improving the quality of service and convenience.

This informed the development of the KRA Service Excellence Programme, which promotes adopting a multi-channelled approach to customer service delivery. The authority’s Corporate Stakeholder Engagement Model, adopted in 2015, is one good transformation – the model provides a single point of contact for corporate stakeholders, accentuating efficient resolution of stakeholder concerns. 

Share of challenges

However, the approach comes with its fair share of challenges. First, public organizations don’t operate in isolation, so there must be greater coordination efforts between various government partners if desired results are to be achieved.         

Second, tax laws are generally considered complex as they imply varying interpretations among various stakeholders leading to lengthy litigations and dispute-resolution processes. The good news, though, is that all these challenges are surmountable. 

It is also important to note that, for service delivery to be robust and meaningful, stakeholder engagements must involve citizens affected by the issues, especially the most strategic. For KRA, it is about strengthening the industry players’ voices in tax policy processes and adding authenticity and momentum to stakeholder engagements to the highest levels possible. 

Stakeholder engagements should also involve both the service providers and the user community. KRA achieves this by sharing information with relevant government actors and officials to help prepare its proposals and by bringing relevant industry players such as business member organisations or professional associations, as the case may be. 

This helps to build a consensus toward resolving issues and encourages stakeholders to become champions for reforms. 

Championing inclusion

Tax literacy is another critical element of championing inclusion. Knowledge gaps and low literacy levels among the customers lead to negative attitudes and low willingness to pay taxes due to failure to understand on the benefits of taxation. 

Over time, KRA customer engagement has been scaled up through the execution and dissemination of information to customers. Communication campaigns have been conducted on various tax heads targeting different taxpayers segments with relevant information regarding their compliance status. There have also been concerted customer communication efforts driven through digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. 

Another critical aspect in enhancing customer inclusion and satisfaction is complaints management. Handling complaints appropriately is key to protecting KRA’s reputation and promoting stakeholders’ trust. Initially, complaints management was not well coordinated and disparate, and several islands of efficiency existed. 

To address this, a corporate complaints management framework was formulated to provide a single complaint collection and reporting point and a standardized criterion for handling complaints from all touch points. This provided a structure for receiving, registering, consolidating, tracking, escalating, resolving, closing, and archiving complaints data. 

Nonetheless, there is no magic wand in creating a delighted taxpayer. Customer engagement is a process. Organisations must re-design their approaches to fit customer priorities. In addition, it is crucial to take advantage of technology and constantly innovate for engagements to be meaningful and add business value. 

Eventually, service excellence is best achieved by looking at customers’ experiences through their eyes, identifying the pain points, and working towards rectifying them. A customer’s journey begins long before they seek services. It starts with what they feel when they interact with a brand. This continues as they seek services, interacting with employees, processes, and systems of the organization and what happens after that.

The writer is the Deputy Commissioner, of Marketing and Communication at the Kenya Revenue Authority. 

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