Part 3: Managing people

Performance of the contact centre for Work and Income.

In this Part, we examine the contact centre’s systems for:

We also look at the contact between service centres and the contact centre, and at the results of Work and Income’s annual staff satisfaction survey.

We examined recruitment, training, and performance management documentation. We also talked to CSRs, their managers, and other contact centre personnel with staff management responsibilities about how these processes worked in practice.

Main findings

Recruitment is well planned. Applicants are made aware of the requirements for the CSR position. Relevant tests are carried out to help ensure that those who are selected have the right mix of skills and display appropriate behaviours. Turnover is consistent with the industry average, and the contact centre is able to fill vacant positions.

Induction is thorough and covers relevant areas. Trainees’ skills are tested, and ongoing coaching and monitoring is in place.

The contact centre has a well-established capacity to design and review CSR training packages. The five sites work together on training issues and with the contact centre operations team. The contact centre has a variety of systems in place to identify and respond to individual staff training needs. Staff members in management roles receive appropriate training.

The contact centre has a system of regular performance assessment for all staff. Staff members are assessed against criteria that are relevant to their role.

There is not a strong focus on joint training with service centres. In our view, this would be helpful.

Results from the 2005 staff satisfaction survey were generally positive.

Recruiting customer service representatives


Staff turnover of CSRs in the contact centre was 24% across the five contact centre sites for the 12 months to April 2006. This is broadly consistent with the industry average.

With almost 600 staff, the contact centre needs to plan recruitment to maintain its workforce. Planning when, and how many, staff need to be recruited is carried out centrally, with input from the individual sites. Sites are responsible for carrying out the recruitment and induction.

The recruitment process

Recruitment in the two sites we visited was well organised and followed clear and comprehensive guidelines.

The job description for the CSR position places appropriate emphasis on relevant competencies such as personal behaviour, client focus, oral communication, managing time, meeting working standards, and teamwork. Applicants are invited to a recruitment seminar, where they are told about the requirements of the job.

The contact centre has well-defined selection criteria for new staff. Relevant skills and behaviours are tested during the application process. These include mathematical and comprehension skills and the candidate’s telephone manner.

The criteria used to decide on a short list of candidates are relevant and the scoring system is clear. Interview questionnaires focus on relevant aspects of the CSR job, including a commitment to service, teamwork, and time management. Reference checks seek confirmation of an applicant’s suitability.

We were told that there is demand for vacant positions, and the contact centre is generally able to recruit the staff it needs.

Inducting customer service representatives

The induction of new CSRs follows a standard, systematic process that is designed to equip new staff to undertake core CSR duties after 12 weeks.

Induction is comprehensive, and covers the work of the Ministry, the services delivered by Work and Income, the tools and technology used in the contact centre, call handling skills, and client service.

Induction involves various staff working together to teach trainees. The roles and responsibilities of these staff are well defined.

Appropriate emphasis is placed on the trainee becoming familiar with handling calls and achieving specified competencies, in conjunction with classroom learning. Progress in meeting these competencies is monitored and tested before the trainee progresses to the next level of responsibility.

Quality checks continue when the trainee joins a permanent team, with fewer quality checks required as the new CSR becomes more experienced.

Training customer service representatives

Creating training packages

The contact centre has a well-established capacity to design and review CSR training packages. This supports the contact centre’s commitment to quality, and its evolving role in delivering an expanding range of Work and Income services.

The contact centre’s operations team works with policy staff in Work and Income and the wider Ministry to design training packages for the delivery of new Work and Income services. Other training packages focus on strengthening the existing knowledge and skills of CSRs – for example, how to handle calls from specific client groups such as those receiving New Zealand Superannuation.

Site training managers are consulted on the design of training packages to ensure that the training packages are practical and relevant. Site training managers may create their own training packages where they see a need, or use aspects of the training packages of the other sites. The contact centre’s operations team reviews training packages created by the sites and approves them for use nationally.

Training for individual CSRs

CSRs have various opportunities for training. These may be initiated by the CSR, the training manager, the service manager, or a quality coach.1

CSRs may submit requests for training at any time. The requests are considered by the CSR’s manager, and scheduled when rosters allow.

Training managers, service managers, and quality coaches use quality monitoring, coaching, and performance reviews to identify the need for refresher training for individual CSRs, teams, or the site as a whole.

Training records for all CSRs are held on a database at each site. The training records we reviewed at one site showed that, in their time at the contact centre, CSRs had received a variety of training in Ministry policies, services, and business processes.

We were told that CSRs’ sound understanding of Work and Income systems, processes, and services makes the contact centre a useful training ground for the rest of Work and Income.

Each CSR must also receive regular coaching. This coaching covers professionalism in the job, client management, and use of resources. For each CSR, there is a coaching record that sets out the agreed development strategies.

Training for managers

We sought evidence that training was provided for staff performing informal or formal management roles (for example, site managers, service managers, quality coaches, and buddies2).

Buddies and quality coaches are drawn from a pool of experienced and high-performing CSRs. They and service managers all receive some training when they take up their roles, although this may be provided informally.

Training records showed that service managers had received training in leadership development, management, coaching, and giving feedback. Service managers we interviewed confirmed that there were relevant training opportunities for them.

Senior managers in Work and Income can attend a Management Development Programme workshop. The programme contains modules relevant to the work of contact centre managers.

A draft Work and Income strategy identifies the need to build the capability of the contact centre, given the evolving scope of CSR work. The strategy also recognises the need to invest in a qualification for Work and Income CSRs. Growth in the size of the contact centre, service delivery changes, and the expanding scope of the work performed by the contact centre all make Work and Income’s review of its training timely.

Measuring the performance of customer service representatives and managers

The performance expectations of CSRs and managers refer clearly to the main performance targets for the contact centre, and specify relevant competencies.

CSR performance is assessed for:

  • professionalism;
  • client management (including handling calls in an efficient and timely way);
  • adhering to their roster (which the contact centre calls compliance);
  • providing appropriate service;
  • meeting quality and accuracy requirements;
  • the use of tools and technology; and
  • teamwork.

CSRs do not have a target number of calls to answer in a given period, although they may receive coaching if they have a higher than average call handling time. CSRs have a formal performance review every six months.

Service managers are responsible for managing the team of CSRs under their control. Their success factors focus on leadership, people development, technical and professional knowledge, relationship management, service quality/client focus, risk management, and use of resources. The performance of service managers is formally reviewed once a year.

Success factors for site managers reflect their strategic role in the site, and are concerned with leadership, people development, strategic and operational planning, relationship management, service quality/client focus, risk management, and compliance. The manager of each contact centre site is also accountable for keeping the site’s expenditure within budget. The performance of site managers is formally reviewed once a year.

Contact with service centres

Reciprocal visits

The induction programme for trainee CSRs includes a visit to the nearest service centre. Case managers in the service centres receive a briefing on the work of the contact centre as part of their induction and may visit a contact centre site. However, not all case managers visit a contact centre, particularly if their service centre is some distance from the nearest contact centre site.

There are significant benefits for trainee CSRs in visiting service centres, especially as service centre and contact centre staff need to work more closely together under Work and Income’s New Service Model.

CSRs may make a training request to visit a local service centre. However, whether this request is granted will depend on the time available.

A liaison guide that preceded the current Seamless Service Standards document3 recommended that periodic reciprocal visits take place, suggesting that CSRs visit local service centre sites three times a year, and a remote site once a year. Case managers were to visit the contact centre within three months of beginning work. The Seamless Service Standards document does not include recommendations for reciprocal visits.

Although service centre staff do visit contact centre sites from time to time, not all case managers have visited a contact centre. Two told us they had never visited a contact centre, despite having been in their jobs for some years.

CSRs and service centre staff we talked to who had made such visits found them valuable. As we note later in this Part, the 2005 staff satisfaction survey identified reciprocal visits as one way to improve relationships between the two groups. Our findings support this view.

Joint training

Contact centre staff do not normally undertake joint training with service centre staff. The notable exception to this was the training for the introduction of the New Service Model pilot.4 The Ministry’s evaluation of the project found that staff viewed this joint training positively.

If service centres and the contact centre work more closely in the future, the benefits from a shared understanding of their respective roles will grow.

The 2005 survey of case manager and CSR satisfaction noted the benefits from consistent training and information for both teams, and suggested combined training to improve communications and promote consistent information. In our view, this was a sensible suggestion.

Measuring staff satisfaction

Each year the Ministry carries out a survey to assess staff satisfaction, and seek the perceptions of staff about its operations.

The survey asks staff:

  • whether the contact centre provides accurate information;
  • whether the contact centre provides a complete service to clients; and
  • how well the service centres and the contact centre work together.

Results from the 2005 staff satisfaction survey were generally positive. Issues highlighted for improvement included communication between contact centre and service centre staff, and the differing views of the role of the contact centre held by contact centre and service centre staff. We discuss these points in our more detailed discussion of relationships between the contact centre and service centres in Part 6.

1: Quality coaches (also referred to as “technical experts”) are experienced CSRs who spend a portion of their time monitoring and coaching other CSRs.

2: Buddies are experienced CSRs who help trainee CSRs when the trainees begin to answer calls from clients.

3: The Seamless Service Standards document sets out the standards service delivery staff are expected to meet when providing services to clients.

4: We discuss this training in more detail in Part 6.

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