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News : Calls to Stoke-on-Trent City Council Abandoned by Residents Left Waiting
Stoke-on-Trent City, UK, Sept 18, 2015 -- More than 400,000 people trying to contact the city council have hung up in the past three years – because their calls were not answered quickly enough.
New figures show more than 22 per cent of calls to the council's call centre have been abandoned since 2012.
In just one week this June, the situation was so bad that more than half of the 9,953 callers – 5,256 calls – were abandoned. Now the council has put measures in place to improve the service – including employing more staff.
But some residents told The Sentinel how they have been left waiting almost 30 minutes for their calls to be answered.
Chell Heath Residents' Association chairman Jim Gibson said: "It's the same whatever time you ring up, you get the same message saying they are dealing with a high volume of calls. I have waited up to 28 minutes to get through. It's infuriating."
Since April 2012 the call centre has received 1,976,775 calls. Of those, 1,528,608 were answered and 436,541 – or 22 per cent – were abandoned.
Council deputy leader Abi Brown today said changes had been made since May and waiting times had already improved.
She said: "Latest figures show we have started to make serious inroads into the call rates. I know the matter is an ongoing concern for residents and councillors.
"We have found ways to improve the system without putting a lot of money into it. Work is ongoing and I'm confident we can continue to improve this."
The council's customer contact centre is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm and from 9am until 1pm on Saturdays. It handles calls about a range of council services, including waste collections, council tax payments, reporting anti-social behaviour and pest control.
A breakdown of the performance since April shows 67,926 of the 196,115 calls were abandoned – a 35 per cent failure rate.
It left the average queue time for callers at between four and six minutes in May and June.
But the number of calls does increase around the start of the financial year and the average waiting time has now dropped to between two and three minutes.
Mrs Brown added: "Since May we have recruited five extra members of staff. We have also increased the number of prioritised services, for example if someone is calling about benefits they will be filtered to particular members of staff instead of being in the queue. There is also more involvement with local centres so our call handlers there will be able to join in with the call centre."
Other planned changes include the integration of council systems to allow staff to access information from different departments more easily, and making it easier for people to make payments in other ways so they don't have to ring the authority. These include new kiosks in local centres, a new online payment system and the possible introduction of Paypal.
Community leaders today stressed it was notoriously difficult to get through to an adviser.
Alan Joinson, chairman of East Bentilee Residents' Association, said: "I've waited more than 20 minutes for my call to be answered. Something has got to be done, it is terrible. People just get frustrated and hang up."
Tom Simpson, secretary of Sandyford and Goldenhill Residents' Association, said: "It is just annoying when you are waiting and waiting on the phone.
"I have seen a slight improvement recently, but I'm sure it could be a lot better."
Members of the council's Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee have asked to be kept updated on the call centre's performance every three months.
Committee chairman, Councillor Mohammed Pervez, said: "I remain sceptical until I see a sustained good performance. We have had these ups and downs before.
"Let's hope the new measures bring about sustained change."
Councillor Ross Irving added: "We are heading in the right direction. I'm very pleased with how things are progressing."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From Stoke-on-Trent City Council
About Stoke-on-Trent City Council:
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is the local authority of Stoke-on-Trent. It is a unitary authority, with the powers and functions of a non-metropolitan county and district council combined. The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent for the 2014/15 municipal year is Majid Khan.
Published: Tuesday, September 22, 2015