Starting in November, our co-op teams “went live” on the phones with all the tax knowledge that we would have from our two months of tax training. During the first few weeks when I first started in the job, there was definitely a steep learning curve as classroom learning was quite different from the actual experience on the phone. Fortunately, I could always consult my Resource Officers for further guidance and support whenever I encountered more complex tax situations. Though I was a Taxpayer Services Agents for the general individual income tax enquiries line, it was still my responsibility to guide taxpayers to other CRA departments such as the Goods and Services Tax Credit (GST), Canadian Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), or the business enquiries number accordingly.
By the time February came around, I was more confident and familiar with the enquiries that taxpayers would generally phone in about. Often times, I would still need to consult with my Resource Officers for a few particular tax situations, but my role itself was becoming more routine and straightforward. As filing season for the 2013 tax year rolled in, it was part of my duty in our interaction with the general public to encourage taxpayers to enroll in direct deposit and netfile their income tax returns to decrease the administrative processing time needed to process refund payments and mail out Notices of Assessments. To this effect, I would advise taxpayers to set up My Account with CRA, which allowed account holders to track the progress of their tax returns electronically.
Towards the last two months of March and April, more accounting professionals and representatives familiar with the Canadian tax system began calling on behalf of their clients with more concise and direct questions regarding income slip matching and instalments from previous years. Taxpayers who file by themselves tend to enquire more about receiving their own individual T4 income slips and the progress of recently submitted tax returns. Other common enquiries from taxpayers include updating home and mailing addresses on file, further explanation and analysis of Notices of Assessments, general enquiries about standard tax credits, and redirecting more complex enquiries to more senior agents as needed.
I learned a lot from this role. First and foremost, this would be communication skills and confidentiality. Communication skills because I learned about handling stress and working efficiently to provide relevant and updated information to taxpayers who may be upset or angry when they first call into CRA initially. With good communication skills, I found that I was able to clarify any confusion they may have. Conducting confidentiality checks over the phone demonstrates professionalism on the job to help safeguard sensitive taxpayer details.
Other aspects include learning and interacting more with the Canadian individual income tax system, experiencing what it was like to work for the federal Canadian government. I would really encourage students to complete at least two co-op semesters before graduating.
As for learning on the job, I really learned when I went live after my two months of training was over. Even though I had learned the tax concepts in training, book learning will never be the same as real experience (and again this highlights the importance of the co-op program). Even though it could be intimidating at first, gradually the steep learning curve would be easier once I had more experience in taking more calls each day.
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