Part 5: Operations support

Performance of the contact centre for Work and Income.

In this Part, we discuss the systems supporting the operations of the contact centre:

During our site visits, we discussed these systems and how they work with the contact centre operations team, with information technology (IT) personnel from the Ministry, and with CSRs and other staff.

We did not examine the disaster recovery capability of the Ministry or contingency planning.

Technology infrastructure and support

We sought evidence that contact centre technology (telephone technology and the associated software and hardware) was capable of:

  • handling expected call volumes;
  • holding callers in a queue and then directing them to waiting CSRs; and
  • producing data about calls and the available resources.

We also looked at the reliability of this technology.

Main findings

From the information provided to us, we were satisfied that the technology supporting the contact centre has the necessary capacity to handle call volumes, effectively manage queues, direct calls to waiting CSRs, and produce data for monitoring and reporting.

A service level agreement between the contact centre and the Ministry’s IT customer services group provides a framework for monitoring reliability, a system for dealing with faults, and a means to resolve longer-term problems.

While contact centre technology is generally stable and reliable, introducing the Internet Protocol Contact Centre1 (IPCC) telephone system to the contact centre caused some problems, which affected the contact centre’s services to callers. We understand that reliability issues have yet to be fully resolved.

Capacity, call distribution, and call data

The Ministry’s IPCC telephone system has the capacity to handle up to 230,000 calls a day across the Ministry. The IT group in the Ministry confirmed that the line capacity was adequate for the contact centre. This means that, while callers trying to reach the contact centre may have to wait to be put through, they should never receive a busy signal nor have their call disconnected before reaching a CSR.

The IT group monitors line capacity, call volumes, database capacities, and network use. We were told the adequacy of the line capacity had been verified through external reviews. Plans are in place to introduce new lines to cope with potential increases in demand.

We identified no concerns about the distribution of calls to different sites or groups of CSRs, and no concerns were expressed to us.

The contact centre’s telephone software collects comprehensive call data for monitoring the performance of individual CSRs, of sites, and of the contact centre as a whole. With this data, the contact centre’s management is able to manage queues, monitor call answering times and abandonment rates for each telephone line, and measure productivity. We discuss this data and how it is used in more detail later in this Part.

Reliability and fixing faults

The contact centre’s IT systems (its telephone lines and desktop applications) are managed by a customer services group within the Ministry’s IT division. This group responds to requests from users and deals with incidents. The group has a service level agreement with the contact centre, against which reports are prepared monthly. The contact centre operations manager and the Ministry’s IT customer services manager meet each month to discuss the monthly report.

Reports to March 2006 showed that the Ministry’s IT applications were available to users for a high proportion of the time. However, the report for October 2005 showed the highest number of calls to the Ministry’s IT customer services group in six months. This coincided with introducing the new IPCC telephone system. Incidents continued to be reported in 2006, with 37 IPCC-related faults reported during February.

The IT customer services group receives, on average, about 650 calls a month from the contact centre, almost all of which are defined as low priority. Most problems are fixed over the telephone, but system support analysts are also available to fix problems on site.

The IT customer services group has resolution targets that vary according to the priority assigned to different types of fault. Four-hour resolution targets apply to high priority or urgent business application faults, and to outages to corporate applications and telephone technology.

The process for recording requests for service and fixing faults is well defined. All requests, faults, and queries are logged and summarised in the monthly report. Incident reports are prepared for failures of systems that affect telephone users. We saw examples of these incident reports, and evidence that they were followed up to establish the cause and find a solution.

There was evidence of discussions between the Ministry’s IT personnel and the contact centre operations manager on the causes and effects of faults, such as loss of calls and increases in call handling time.

An annual staff satisfaction survey asks Ministry staff for their views on the availability and performance of different applications. The latest survey report, published in October 2005, showed a decline in ratings for the newly introduced IPCC phones, reflecting a higher level of service requests in this period.

CSRs we spoke to considered the technology infrastructure of the contact centre to be mostly reliable. They were confident about the support available to help with any IT problems that might arise.

Call forecasting and workforce scheduling

Scheduling is about having the right people in the right place at the right time. In a busy contact centre, scheduling is complex and must take account of many factors. Some of these factors are:

  • the number of calls coming into the contact centre at different times of the week and during each day;
  • call handling time; and
  • the target service level for the day or week.

Scheduling also needs to incorporate time for individual coaching, training, team meetings, and time for staff to bring themselves up to date with changes to policies or processes.

We sought evidence that Work and Income had a system for staff scheduling that took account of all relevant factors.

Unplanned events can mean that more or fewer staff are needed at a given time than forecast. We expected the contact centre to monitor service levels and have a plan to respond to changes at short notice.

Main findings

Scheduling follows a systematic process of forecasting required staff numbers and preparing rosters (see Figure 7). Communication between sites and the national contact centre team helps to ensure that different, and often competing, operational demands are met.

Access to detailed call management data and adjusted forecasts during each day gives the contact centre the flexibility to respond to unplanned events by reassigning staff.

Forecasting, creating the settlement plan, and rostering

Forecasting and preparing a national settlement plan (which shows scheduled activities for a two-week period for each site) is the responsibility of the contact centre operations manager and his team of business support advisors in Wellington.

Figure 7
Information incorporated in workforce scheduling

Figure 7.


The contact centre uses software to calculate the number of staff required for a given day. It uses a number of variables such as call volumes, target service levels, and predicted call handling time.

Daily call volumes are forecast in 15-minute intervals. These forecasts are based on historical data. Future events likely to affect call volumes, such as advertising of Work and Income services, policy changes, or public holidays (after which call volumes are normally high), are included in the forecast.

The contact centre’s forecasting takes account of other factors that may indirectly affect the service level, such as the introduction of new information technology or processing requirements that may increase call handling times.

The settlement plan

The product of forecasting is the national settlement plan. The national settlement plan shows scheduled activities over a two-week period for each site, and is published two months in advance. It is based on expected call volumes, call handling times, staff numbers, staff leave, and planned activities off the telephone (such as training and meetings).

The settlement plan is discussed in weekly conference calls between the contact centre operations manager and the five site managers. Each site manager is responsible for meeting the allocated telephone hours set out in the settlement plan.

Staff rosters

Staff rosters are prepared based on the settlement plan. CSRs are rostered within the hours of 7am to 8pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. CSRs know their rostered hours three weeks in advance.

The contact centre is planning to introduce a roster system that would allow CSRs to express their preferences for their hours of work.

Including special requirements in the settlement plan and roster

The contact centre’s scheduling has the flexibility to roster specialist staff when required. For example, the annual general adjustment to benefits and New Zealand Superannuation from 1 April 2006 required complex calculations. The contact centre predicted the need to assign selected CSRs to this task, with time allocated through the settlement plan and staff rosters. This enabled the contact centre to process calls more efficiently and accurately.

Monitoring and responding to call patterns and service levels

Even with good forecasts and accurate schedules, any contact centre needs to constantly monitor call patterns and service levels, and respond with a well-defined escalation plan. The contact centre’s system means it can monitor and respond to changes in service level at short notice.

Operations analysts have access to a variety of data that enables them to monitor factors critical to the contact centre meeting its planned service level. These include waiting times for callers, the number of callers in the queue, the number of abandoned calls, and how many CSRs are available to take calls.

The call management system constantly adjusts the daily service level forecast to reflect the current situation. Operations analysts monitor variations between planned and actual service levels that indicate a possible need to assign more staff to answering calls, or to release some staff for off-phone activities.

The contact centre has a set of procedures to deal with unplanned events affecting service levels. These procedures define the circumstances in which more staff will be assigned to answering calls at short notice. The procedures specify different responses depending on the nature of the event and the effect of that event on the service level.

In monitoring call performance and responding to unplanned events, the operations analyst can also allocate CSRs to answering only calls to particular 0800 telephone numbers. This enables the contact centre to reserve staff to maintain levels of service for priority services. For example, the contact centre uses this facility to reserve CSRs for the employer line through which employers inform Work and Income of job vacancies. The contact centre has a target of answering 95% of calls to this line within 20 seconds, reflecting Work and Income’s emphasis on moving people into employment. (The employer line is not included in the monthly 80/20 target.)

One way to reduce the effect of unforeseen events on service levels is to play callers a message explaining that the contact centre is currently experiencing heavy call volumes. Such messages may encourage callers to call back later, reducing the number of calls waiting in the queue. The contact centre’s technology has this capability, and we saw evidence of circumstances in which messages to callers had a marked effect on call volumes.

Monitoring CSR compliance

For the contact centre to meet its service level targets, CSRs must be logged into their telephones, taking calls or ready to take calls, during their rostered hours.

Compliance (the proportion of their rostered time that CSRs spend logged in to the telephone, taking a call or waiting to take a call) is monitored closely at sites. Compliance is included in the contact centre’s monthly report to the Work and Income Executive.

Reported compliance rates to March 2006 were consistently high, reaching or exceeding the target of 92%.

Other productivity data available by site and for each individual CSR includes clerical time, call handling time, and the number of calls answered. CSRs may receive coaching if their productivity data is persistently out of line with average performance.

Guidance available for staff

CSRs have to be able to answer all queries quickly, and provide every caller with accurate information. They must also follow Work and Income’s policies and procedures.

CSRs therefore need ready access to accurate, consistent, and easy-to-follow information and guidance. We looked at what information and guidance was available to CSRs and asked whether they found this easy to navigate, clear, and up to date.

Main findings

CSRs have access to a large body of guidance and information to help them answer callers’ questions (see Figure 8). Information is kept up to date, is relevant, and is easy to search. CSRs also have ready access to client details.

Figure 8
Sources of guidance and information for customer service representatives

Figure 8.

Online guidance

CSRs have online access to a variety of information sources to help them answer calls. The main sources are:

  • HIYA (“Here is Your Answer”), an application specifically designed for Work and Income contact centre staff;
  • MAP, an online policy and procedures manual;
  • the Work and Income intranet; and
  • Global, a directory of Work and Income staff’s contact details.


The main information source for CSRs is HIYA. HIYA contains information about the contact centre’s work as well as about Work and Income more generally.

CSR are given 30 minutes each week to catch up on fresh information in HIYA. CSRs we interviewed considered this enough time, given that there were normally some additional opportunities between calls.

Training in using HIYA is part of induction. CSRs we spoke to considered HIYA easy to use.

HIYA is regularly updated and has an extensive search facility. It includes links to other information sources, such as MAP and Global, which helps CSRs find information during a call.

Pages in HIYA provide guidance on specific topics such as outbound calling, Working for Families, and New Zealand Superannuation. Guidance is in a readily accessible form, such as scripts,2 decision trees,3 and lists of frequently asked questions.

HIYA features weekly comments from the General Manager Contact Centres. CSRs can use HIYA to suggest improvements to services or business processes, note problems, or record complaints from clients. Staff also use HIYA to request leave and training.

MAP, the Work and Income intranet, and Global

MAP is Work and Income’s online policy and procedures manual. It contains technical information about policies and services.

Work and Income’s intranet contains easy-to-search corporate information.

Global is an online staff directory. It contains a list of staff and their portfolios. CSRs use it to find a client’s nearest service centre.

Other sources of guidance

CSRs needing help during a call can also seek advice from a quality coach, or a “site champion”. Site champions are CSRs or service managers with specialist knowledge of a particular subject.

The Helpline is also available to CSRs. The Helpline is a telephone service CSRs (and other Work and Income staff) can call for help with business processes and how to apply Work and Income policies. The Helpline also issues general advice in response to common queries from Work and Income staff. CSRs can place a caller on hold to access the Helpline.

Ease of use

We observed, and were told, that CSRs have ready online access to client details.

They are able to search for information they need, and can easily switch between screens and applications at their computers during a call.

Updating information for CSRs

An information support advisor in the contact centre operations team is responsible for ensuring that contact centre staff have access to accurate, up-todate, and easy-to-use information. This job includes:

  • creating and maintaining information within HIYA; and
  • providing guidance to CSRs.

The information support advisor acts as a link between the contact centre and policy units in Work and Income. They gather information from a variety of sources in Work and Income and the wider Ministry, and make it available to CSRs in an appropriate and accessible format.

Planning and reporting

We looked at how the contact centre:

  • plans for the year ahead;
  • sets its budget; and
  • reports on its performance.

We discussed planning, budgeting, and reporting with relevant managers at the contact centre and in the wider Ministry. We examined examples of regular reports as well as other documents, such as business cases for new funding.

The Ministry funds and manages the contact centre’s corporate overheads, such as building costs and technology. We did not examine the Ministry’s management of this expenditure.

Main findings

The contact centre plans for the year ahead, but does not have an annual business plan. It has told us that it intends to prepare a three-year strategy, which will include an annual plan.

The budgeting process meets the needs of the contact centre, which receives assured funding. The contact centre is required to follow the discipline of compiling and seeking approval for a business case to obtain further resources.

The contact centre has a sophisticated system for collecting call data and produces a variety of reports on service level performance, resource use, call quality, client satisfaction, and productivity.

Business planning

We expected the contact centre to have an annual business plan setting out:

  • its objectives and performance targets, with strategies to achieve these and an estimate of the funding needed;
  • its risks and opportunities, including ways in which it will manage its relationships with, and reliance on, other parts of Work and Income and the Ministry; and
  • ways in which it will seek to operate more effectively and at lower cost.

We also expected the contact centre to report regularly against its business plan, using relevant measures of performance.

The national contact centre management team holds an annual planning workshop where it discusses ways to operate more effectively and efficiently. These workshops result in a number of projects for the coming year, focused on business improvement and reducing costs. However, the contact centre did not have a business plan for the 2005/06 financial year.

The contact centre told us that it intends to prepare a three-year strategy, which would include an annual business plan.

A business plan would have significant benefits for the contact centre and for the Ministry. It would provide a means for the contact centre to:

  • set its objectives and targets as a contact centre business and as a service delivery arm of Work and Income;
  • determine the funding required to achieve its objectives;
  • report on its performance against its objectives;
  • identify risks and opportunities, including external dependencies and factors outside its control that it needs to recognise and manage;
  • outline how it intends to operate more efficiently and improve its business processes; and
  • communicate its vision and direction to its staff, other parts of the Ministry, clients, and other external stakeholders.
Recommendation 5
We recommend that the contact centre prepare an annual business plan.

Business improvement

The contact centre is involved in a wide range of projects to enhance its services and business processes. Some originate with the contact centre itself, and others with Work and Income or another part of the Ministry.

Although, with competing priorities, some projects proceed more quickly than others, documentation supplied to us indicated that projects are well planned and managed.


The major expenses in running a contact centre are salaries and other staff-related costs. The budget allocated each year to the contact centre covers these costs. The Ministry meets most other costs.

How the budget is set

The contact centre receives a core budget allocation each year. Extra funding has been allocated to the contact centre as it has expanded and taken on different types of work. More funding may be sought if the contact centre needs to handle a greater volume of calls (inbound or outbound), or if the average time taken to handle calls increases because of new processes or requirements.

Work and Income has a strategy for the contact centre to deliver more services where these can be delivered more efficiently over the telephone than in service centres. Bids for more funding are supported by business cases, which are presented to the Work and Income Executive for approval.

If the contact centre is required to take on significant new functions with major resource implications, the Ministry will seek funding from the Government. This was necessary with the introduction of the Working for Families package, for which added funding was obtained for the contact centre.

Allocation and reporting

The contact centre’s budget is divided among the five sites, according to staffing costs. Salaries and other staff-related costs make up more than 90% of each site’s budget.

The five site managers are responsible for monitoring the budgets allocated to them, and for monthly expenditure reporting to the rest of the contact centre’s management team. The General Manager Contact Centres reports on expenditure to the Work and Income Executive, which she is a member of.

Reporting on contact centre performance

A summarised monthly performance report is tabled at the monthly Work and Income Executive meeting. The monthly performance report shows the number of calls received by each of the 0800 telephone numbers, and the number of outbound calls made by the contact centre, for the month and for the year to date. It also notes any major issues and outlines progress with projects.

The monthly performance report shows performance against targets for:

  • client satisfaction;
  • service level;
  • call handling time;
  • compliance;
  • sick leave; and
  • call quality.

The contact centre is responsible to Work and Income for meeting its targets. However, monthly performance reports to the Work and Income Executive do not highlight instances where the contact centre has failed to meet its targets. Nor do they contain a thorough analysis of either the causes of these difficulties or the implications for callers. We have discussed these matters in Part 2, with recommendations for more detailed analysis and reporting.

Reporting within the contact centre

The contact centre has a sophisticated performance reporting system, which shows performance within a given day, at the end of the day, for the week, and for the month.

Monitoring during the day is the responsibility of the duty operations analyst, who initiates a response (where necessary) to variances between planned and actual service levels and likely changes in call volumes. Call data is available by 15-minute interval.

End-of-day reports show:

  • how long CSRs spend answering or waiting for calls;
  • how much time they spend on clerical tasks; and
  • how many calls are answered, and how many are abandoned.

This data is available for each of the five sites, for each CSR, and for each telephone line.

A further report shows performance for the week and comments on factors that have affected that performance. Each week the five contact centre site managers and the national operations manager discuss the weekly report, the settlement plan, service levels, and priorities for tasks other than answering calls. Each of the five site managers is responsible for explaining any variances between allocated hours off the telephones for their site and the actual hours used.

The national contact centre management team receives a monthly report, showing staff productivity, compliance, client satisfaction, attrition, the results of call quality checks, analysis of outbound call outcomes, and call volumes.

The national contact centre management team also receives a monthly operations report showing client satisfaction by site, service levels with interyear comparisons, call quality results, call handling time, call volumes, and data showing efficiency and productivity (such as measures of compliance and CSR telephone time).

Members of the contact centre management team meet every four to five weeks. They consider the monthly performance report and operations report at these meetings. The management team also discuss a range of operational and strategic issues relevant to the contact centre and the wider Ministry, and the status of business improvement projects.

1: Internet Protocol Contact Centre (IPCC) refers to a telephone system that uses Voice over Internet Protocol rather than traditional telephone lines.

2: A script is a set of directions, with suggested wording, to help guide a CSR through a call.

3: A decision tree is a flowchart that shows the information needed to reach a decision.

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