Bug hits council call centre

ICT problems left thousands of citizens unable to reach a council by phone during the first three months of the year.

A report by Stoke-on-Trent City Council this week revealed that during one week in March, more than half of calls to the council were either disconnected prematurely or abandoned by customers fed-up by being kept on hold.

The council has issued an apology for the problems, and says that it is taking steps to deal with the technical problems with its call centre.

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A report by council officers to be considered by members this week said: “Quarter four of 2014-15 was an extremely challenging period for the service.

“Performance levels were below our expectations for three main reasons; systemic failures in the telephony system throughout the period, extremely high levels of demand (and subsequent repeat demand) and pressures on staffing levels across the team.”

The report said that the contact centre receives an average of 49,500 calls per month, with the majority relating to revenues and benefits and other core services.

A spokesman for the city council said: “Our customer access department was affected by a host of problems, often simultaneously, which really challenged our ability to respond to demand from callers at times. We apologise to anyone kept waiting, or whose call was accidentally disconnected due to the technical faults we experienced.

“We are taking steps to solve the technical problems. Our priority is to provide a positive customer experience for residents contacting us and it is very regrettable that high volumes of calls, combined with technical issues, are resulting in delays.”

In January, the council announced that it was reducing the number of call centre workers from 402 to 296 as part of a channel shift strategy aimed at getting more people to contact the authority via the internet.

The spokesman said: “To make it easier and quicker for people to contact the council and get the information they need, we are currently improving our website to expand the range of online services available and make them easier to access.

“Our ‘Click and Easy’ programme will make it easier to report issues, apply for services, find information and pay bills without picking up the phone, and will enable our staff to respond more quickly to people who really need to call us about more complex or pressing enquiries.”

Colin Marrs

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