Headlines: December 8th, 1999

The Cabinet Office is responding to the growing ‘convenience culture’ by encouraging central and local government to adopt a contact centre approach to dealing with people and businesses. Contact centres, which deal with e-mail, video and fax as well as phone calls, are seen as an effective lever in transforming public services.The call centre industry is booming and by 2002 there will be more people working in call centres than teachers and farmers put together. Commercial organisations have progressed much further down the call centre road, but there are success stories in the public sector. By the end of 1999 some 60% of the UK will be able to get health advice from NHS Direct. The job seekers helpline, Employment Direct, launched earlier in the year, has shown that finding a job can be quicker and easier by phone. Although the public sector is a late entrant to this growing industry it could move to the forefront with the development of contact centres handling a range of electronic media.

The Cabinet Office is concerned that public bodies should maintain high standards and particularly that customers should be dealt with at the first contact point. Buck passing should be avoided where at all possible. It also advises that independent teams of mystery callers should be employed to find out the standard of service provided.