NAO says government call centres lack control

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The NAO report called for more reliable information on costs and performance, so that call centres could show that they were delivering an effective service.

Sir John Bourne, comptroller and auditor general of the NAO, said the report painted ‘generally a good picture of a public that is mostly satisfied with the service received from government call centres’. But he warned there was room for improvement.

‘Call centres need to collect full and reliable information about their services and departments need to be sure that efficiency and quality are really being delivered,’ he said in a statement.

One call centre singled out in the report was Equality Direct, an advice centre on discrimination in the workplace. Calls to this cost the taxpayer £27.50 per minute. Two other centres cost the taxpayer more than £5 per minute.

The report found that many callers failed to get through to call centre operators because of inflexible staff rosters and poor call management techniques.

Mike Havard, managing director of customer management consultancy, CM Insight and an expert advisor to the NAO report, told VNU News Centre there is significant potential for improvement: ‘In most cases costs are high because they are inadequately understood. Managers must disaggregate call centre costs from general operating expenses to see exactly what the service is costing.

‘This will provide a solid basis for decisions about operational changes, resource planning adjustments and technology investments that will reduce costs without compromising service.’

Havard added centres must put the caller first, and focus on the accuracy and completeness of information they give. Measuring call length often encourages agents to end the call without fully resolving the caller’s issue, he said: ‘This will, almost inevitably, result in follow up calls which further overburden the system.’

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