Headlines: December 18th, 2002

Call centres providing a range of public services are managed better by private sector companies. They provide a better service and make more effective use of staff. These are conclusions from the National Audit Office report ‘Using Call Centres to Deliver Public Services’.The NAO survey found that call centres managed by private sector companies are generally better equipped, particularly with IT systems. They also have more flexible staffing arrangements to manage the volume of calls so that people rarely get an engaged tone. Where calls cannot be answered the caller hears a recorded message and is able to leave contact details for the centre to call back. The report quotes the department run Child Benefit Centre which answered 2.6 million calls in a year, but a further 5.4 million calls received an engaged tone. The Centre does not know how many times these callers had to redial and whether they eventually got through to an agent.

The report is critical of the failure of public bodies to market their call center services. Only 14 per cent use telephone directories. The remainder rely on leaflets, pamphlets and forms and on the Internet.

Some 15,000 people work in the 133 call centres which provide Government services. The NAO found that the public perception that call centres have poor working conditions was unfounded. Despite the large number of calls handled and the intensity of the work, staff generally enjoyed a reasonable physical environment. They could take regular breaks and remuneration was comparable with call centres serving private sector companies. UNISON and the Public Commercial Services Union have developed constructive working relationships between call centre managements and their staff.

Link: http://www.nao.gov.uk