How to save money – don’t answer the phone!

Call centres. I bet you love them as much as I do. Almost as much as automated call systems directing me to press 1 for customer service, press 2 for deliveries and so on as I quickly lose interest in holding on in the vain hope of speaking to a real person.

More often than not, ‘success’ means hearing a message along the lines of “all our advisers are currently busy, your call is important to us and will be answered shortly”. After this has been repeated maybe half a dozen times my patience starts to wear a bit thin. I know I’m being conned. My call and your call isn’t really that important or there’d be sufficient advisers ready to answer and resolve the issue.

I understand that every business has to strike a balance between responsiveness and the costs of delivery and I’ve been conditioned to expect this from companies focused on maximising profits including where it might be detrimental to the customer experience.

But have you noticed what’s happening with Local Authorities?

Okay, I know, LAs are easy targets – financial pressures and growing demand for services and not always known for their accessibility but these are public services and accountable to us.

Many LAs seem to have adopted the sharp practices of their private sector brethren and installed call centres to manage communications with their public and are now much less visible to the outside world. If you haven’t contacted your local authority recently, give them a call and see how you get on.

They’ve probably got a single point of contact, one telephone number through which most of the call traffic is routed to make it easier for everyone to stay in touch. Makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t you operate in this way?

Well, not so long ago, a very senior manager of a nearby authority jokingly suggested that not answering the phones would be a great way to save money as people would have to be really really determined to get in touch. After all, if people give up easily their need can’t be so great or important enough for the LA to be concerned. I think it’s called ‘demand management’ and something like pretending you’re not home when the window cleaner comes to collect his money.

What a great wheeze – make a saving on staffing costs by employing fewer call centre staff and save again with fewer people accessing your services because the front door is less open than it used to be. Oh and direct everyone to your website where you can make it really difficult to find your telephone number…. to the call centre – works a treat.

The reality is that the LA does want to know about your concerns, your compliments and your needs but is overwhelmend which can make it quite difficult to engage. Nonetheless you are a cost and by denying you access that cost can be bagged as a saving – genius!

That is, until that quite poorly person or that child at risk doesn’t have access to a relevant service in a timely fashion. I genuinely hope that never happens but with authorities under increasing pressure to do nothing the probability and impact of failure is notching up and even with a greater appetite for risk there are some practices, like letting the phone ring, that appear to be in operation even if not publicised and claimed as an innovative efficiency saving.

Now of course, I’m speculating and perhaps being a little mischieveous. I don’t know if this kind of practice is common across the country but I’d be interested to know, wouldn’t you?

 

 

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