Friday, 4 October 2013

A visit to the contact centre

This morning I joined my colleague Jeremy Rowe on a visit to the council's contact centre in Camborne. This is the facility that handles most of the calls made to the authority - more than a million every year.

The deliberate decision has been to concentrate on the quality of the outcome of each call rather than speeding through each one as quickly as possible. Over half are still picked up within 5 seconds, but there will be some cases where people have to wit for a while before their call can be answered. But we hope to make sure that the caller gets their problem resolved or question answered during that call rather than being passed from pillar to post or being asked to call back.

We aren't perfect, of course, and the impact of welfare changes has added extra pressure to the staff there, but I believe that this is the right course to take. I know that we are working to ensure that spikes caused by key events like council tax bills are handled more smoothly in the future, but the quality of the service in Cornwall is already far higher than most council call centres.

It means that the call centre staff need to be
very highly trained. People handling council tax enquiries go through six weeks of training and the cross-skills team (ie those who handle general enquiries covering 17 services) receive 12 weeks of training.

I sat in with Gina from the council tax team to listen to some calls. Even within that one discipline, the variety of issues was huge and they were all handled really quickly and with a blur of fingers across the keyboard. It's a tough time for many households and many of the people were calling because they had received a final demand from the council. But I think everybody left having had their issue resolved and certainly feeling that the council was represented by someone who was friendly, professional and courteous.

The contact centre also offers value for money. Even though most calls can be handled by the contact centre staff and so they take longer on average, the cost to the council per call is less than half that of most authorities.

Thanks to Wayne, Sharon and their entire team at Dolcoath for a really interesting visit.

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