Death and taxes have one other thing in common, apart from their certainty. They are both capable of inducing knee-buckling fear.
While the reasons for fearing the former are well established and universal among humans, the fear of taxes stems partly from the concern that we’ll get it wrong, and find ourselves in debt and legal trouble.
This fear is one of the chief deterrents to using an online tax filing service, and one of the biggest reasons why the major players, such as TurboTax, still lose out to real-world accountants.
TurboTax has this year introduced a new video chat service, complete with a reassuring, real-time human face to try and calm those fears. It seems the service’s existing, artificial intelligence-powered, text-based online guidance is too cold and inhuman for many people to trust.
That’s unfortunate, because we’re still of the opinion that the rise of such automation actually makes it much easier and quicker to deal with the bureaucratic, standard form drudgery of everyday life online.
Video Help at Tax Time
TurboTax, owned by financial software maker Intuit, actually attracts more than 30 million customers each year, a majority cut of the 34% of taxpaying Americans who use a digital tax preparation site.
So the fear of an automated world isn’t doing them any mortal damage.
And to be clear, what they’re offering with the new Smartlook feature isn’t strictly speaking video calling. It’s only a one-way visual connection–user’s faces aren’t displayed–that allows service agents to share the screen of a customer in real-time, and draw all over their tax return to demonstrate how best to solve a dilemma. It’s similar to the way Amazon’s watered-down Mayday Button now works, although TurboTax’s version is even more conservative as the agents don’t actually enter any data into the form.
The service is only available within TurboTax’s paid products, or can be bought if you’re filing under the free service, and there’s a limit to what the agents can advise on–bankruptcy and inheritance queries are out.
One other thing it can’t do is replicate the pace of the old bot-operated service.
Tax Advice from Artificial Intelligence
Bots are just computer programs driven by algorithms, in the best cases “learning” algorithms, which are great at doing the same two essential tasks most computers do best: matching keywords to preprogrammed or learned responses, and doing lots and lots of math. Very quickly.
They’ve recently jumped out of the purely mathematical field to become disembodied chat partners, and able assistants on social media platforms and workflow systems.
They do the little things for you. Search for things online they’ve been told you like, provide form answers to social questions based on your previous responses, and organize your work schedule.
In the automated tax preparation world they generate simple question and answer prompts to help people lodge complex information intuitively, and quickly.
They can’t match the warmth, wit, and authenticity of a human interaction over a video call, but if you discriminate between the social and the functional there’s an online world waiting where two kingdoms, one automated, one human, coexist in harmony.
The Internet’s Interface and Backend
We’ve written previously about the potential for video conferencing to offer small businesses a better relationship with their financial advisers and institutions.
That’s an example of how an ongoing relationship can be nurtured and improved using video calling to build trust. It puts people face-to-face when there’s a genuine mutual partnership at stake, when there’s time enough for the social niceties and formalities that distinguish human interaction to be observed.
Video calling a tax agent when you have one little query, or just to seek assurance you’ve done things correctly unnecessarily drags out the process. Especially when the answer is instantly on hand with a bot.
There’s no need to schedule a callback or more suitable time with a bot, no need to explain your situation to new ears, and never a chance the expert on the other end is having a bad day, or just sucks at customer service.
The idea of split responsibilities works across many fields. If you’re planning a vacation, spend your time talking online to people who’ve gone before, or who can answer your broad questions. Then let the bot do all the booking and price comparisons on the myriad hotel and flight websites.
Same applies if you’re buying a large domestic appliance. Use video calling to speak with customer service agents who can advise on the best brands and what’s appropriate for your home, and then dispatch the bot to find the best price, track down all the possible colors, and even make the purchase and arrange delivery.
It takes a leap of faith in the accuracy and aptitude of your new bot friend, but the speed and efficiency of their work is worth the risk.
So, we say, let the bots do all the boring, technical guff like filing your tax return, and use video calling to enjoy the more human aspects of the internet age.