Part of the service offering of our financial planning business involves assisting people with their tax returns (we submit over 140 each year as well as 80 provisional tax returns). Tax is not really something that we enjoy doing nor is it a profitable aspect of our business. However, it is an essential part of the service offering as more and more people become intimidated by or disillusioned with their dealings with SARS. Do you have any idea how frustrating and time consuming it is dealing with your “company”?
Consider the following example:
This morning we received the 5th assessment that is incorrect as a result of SARS not crediting the tax payer with provisional tax that was paid and this is inspite of us having received a written confirmation from SARS noting that the provisional tax was paid (on time). Instead of being able to pick up the phone and speak to someone about this and get it resolved instantly, the tax payer either needs to go into SARS (this often involves waiting in a queue that is several hours long and will therefore result in a day’s unpaid leave) or else we need to submit an objection to the assessment. This involves unnecessary paper work and too much time. And then we need to do the follow up work and in our experience, objections can take anything from 3 weeks to 9 months to be resolved. And all this time, the tax payer is being prejudiced because of additional expenses incurred to correct an error that he/she never made in the first place. There is no “equity and fairness” in this process. Let me not even get started on the process of registering as a tax payer for the first time – whomever designed it has never had to go through it!
Now if I ran my business and treated my “customers” in the same way that SARS treats its customers, I would most probably have very few customers and would possibly even be out of business. I have said it before and will say it again; when efiling works it is fantastic, but when it goes wrong it is a nightmare. In the same way, dealing with the call centre is just about bearable when it works, but when it does not (or there is a “grumpy” agent on the other side of the line) it is also a nightmare. (And whomever came up with the idea to punch in all the data each time you call and that then needs to be repeated to the call centre agent should be reprimanded for complicating a process unnecessarily – it is not working!) In the past week alone we have spent several hours on hold to the SARS National call centre (it appears that all lines to SARS now go to this line) calls are either not answered at all or else are just “cut off” after 15-20mins of hold time. This is not acceptable and unfortunately our client experiences are not consistent with SARS core values:
“We are committed to providing excellent service to the public. Our relationships, business processes and conduct are based on:
- mutual trust and respect;
- equity and fairness;
- integrity and honesty;
- transparency and openness; and
- courtesy and commitment.”
I understand that SARS is not really a business in the sense of a normal business but it is there to make a profit. Unfortunately, your customers dont have the choice to go elsewhere and so you have a captive market in one sense. But when you dont treat people fairly, or you make it too difficult to do “business” with your company, you foster and encourage an attitude of non-compliance…and this is not good for business and is at odds with your strategic goals:
“Our strategic goals – adopted to enable us to fulfil our mandate – are:
- to optimise revenue yield;
- to provide excellent service;
- to engage in responsible enforcement;
- to transform our people and culture;
- to transform the business and build capability; and
- to promote good governance.”
I guess I dont really expect things to change as a result of this letter and I am also sure that there are plenty of people who are “happy” with SARS, but you need to be aware that in the circles in which we operate, there is an increasing unhappiness and disatisfaction when dealing with SARS. And like I said earlier, it is not like we have a choice to go elsewhere, but when people are treated fairly and politely and with dignity and respect, then it is much more likely that they will comply. And that, is good for business!