Part 6: How the contact centre works with other parts of Work and Income

Performance of the contact centre for Work and Income.

In this Part, we discuss how the contact centre works with other parts of Work and Income. We consider the relationships between the contact centre and service centres, which are critical to the quality of services delivered to Work and Income clients.

We also look at:

Both services have brought changes to the way in which the contact centre operates and works with other parts of Work and Income.

Relationships between the contact centre and service centres

The contact centre and service centres need to work closely together to deliver a consistent and effective service for Work and Income clients.

Case managers are CSRs’ main point of contact with service centres. We asked CSRs how they worked with case managers and about relationships with service centres more generally. We also visited four service centres to ask case managers and other staff about the services delivered by the contact centre.

We asked CSRs and case managers about:

  • the framework they worked within;
  • the case managers’ understanding of what CSRs did; and
  • the case managers’ assessment of how well CSRs did their job, and the effect CSRs had on case managers’ work.

Main findings

A service charter and standards govern working relationships between the contact centre and service centres. Designated liaison staff promote effective communications between the two parts of Work and Income. Service centre staff made positive comments about the work of CSRs.

However, in our view, Work and Income could do more to promote a common understanding of what each group does.

Framework for the working relationships between the contact centre and service centres

Work and Income has a service charter that tells clients what they can expect, about their rights as clients, and how they can help Work and Income provide a better service.

The standards to ensure that all Work and Income service delivery staff provide consistent services to clients are set out in a document known as the Seamless Service Standards. The document outlines procedures for making client appointments, transferring calls from clients, dealing with requests for assistance and benefit applications, how client information can be used, and other matters relating to communication between contact centre and service centre staff.

All staff have access to the standards. CSRs and case managers received training about the standards in 2005.

However, when asked about relationship documents, or protocols or understandings between the contact centre and service centres, not all staff referred to the Seamless Service Standards.

In our view, there would be better awareness of the intent of the standards, and the associated working procedures, if Work and Income periodically reminded its staff of the Seamless Service Standards.

Case managers’ understanding of what CSRs do

Staff we spoke to at service centres were generally aware of the range of queries dealt with by CSRs. They were positive about the role performed by the contact centre and the work of CSRs. Staff commented that directing telephone calls to the contact centre had enabled service centre staff to focus on their core tasks.

Case managers also noted that the contact centre was open outside service centre hours, which extended client access to Work and Income services, particularly for clients who worked during the day.

However, our discussions with case managers revealed the need for them to better understand CSRs’ jobs and the way the contact centre works. For example, case managers were not always aware of the busiest times for the contact centre. Knowing this would help them advise clients on the best time to telephone the contact centre.

Case managers were not aware of the performance targets for the contact centre (such as the target service level) nor of the performance measures for CSRs. In our view, knowing these targets would help case managers to understand the contact centre environment better.

In 2005, Work and Income commissioned a survey of case manager and CSR satisfaction. The survey also asked CSRs and case managers about whether they considered work processes and services could be improved, developed, or expanded.

The results revealed scope for improving the relationships between the contact centre and service centres. CSRs and case managers had very different understandings of what the contact centre does. To establish a common understanding, the survey report proposed a clear definition and articulation of the contact centre’s main roles and functions. It also suggested that the relationships could be improved by providing opportunities for reciprocal visits, more communication, and enhanced awareness of the procedures followed by each site.

In our view, relationships between service centres and the contact centre could be improved if Work and Income implemented the recommendations of the staff survey report.

Communications between the contact centre and service centres

Effective communication is critical to the working relationships between the contact centre and service centres. Overall, service centre staff we spoke to were positive about communications between themselves and the contact centre.

Communications between contact centre staff and service centres are handled by a designated liaison person at the respective sites. Their tasks include arranging appointments for clients, dealing with complaints or other client feedback, and handling any other issues between the two groups.

There are also links between contact centre and service centre managers through forums and regional managers’ meetings.

How well CSRs are seen to be doing their job

Work and Income clients commonly deal with both the contact centre and the service centre. Therefore, how each group relates to the client affects the other group.

We asked case managers and other service centre staff how well CSRs do their job.

From the perspective of case managers, it is particularly important that CSRs:

  • record relevant changes to client circumstances and note any actions taken (CSRs enter notes into the appropriate computer application, while taking a call or after the call);
  • give accurate advice and avoid making inappropriate commitments to callers; and
  • make proper use of the appointment booking tool to schedule appointments with a case manager.

The CSRs and case managers we spoke to acknowledged the importance of a full and clear record of all client contacts. For CSRs, it is equally important that case managers record all contacts they have with clients, so that CSRs are fully informed if they then receive a call.

Service centre staff told us that the notes made by CSRs were usually clear and accurate. Case managers commented on the importance of using standard and generally understood abbreviations. Many notes follow a standard format set out on the computer systems.

Service centre staff felt that CSRs, on the whole, gave accurate information to clients. CSRs were also careful to avoid making commitments – for example, whether a caller might be entitled to a particular benefit – and would sometimes note this in their record of the call. In our view, this is a sensible practice.

The appointment booking tool enables a CSR to make an appointment for a client at the appropriate service centre. The tool is supported by a directory of service centres and their staff, which needs to be kept up to date so that appointments are made with the right Work and Income staff member.

While there had been early problems with the technology, staff we talked to told us the appointment booking tool was working well and that the prescribed procedures were usually followed.

CSRs can contact a liaison person in each service centre if the appointment system shows no vacant times and the appointment is urgent.

Introduction of the New Service Model

The New Service Model refers to Work and Income’s new approach to clients. The model involves assessing all clients for work readiness and supporting those who are able to enter the workforce. The New Service Model is designed to support the proposed Single Core Benefit scheduled for introduction in 2007/08.

Before being implemented in all Work and Income offices in May 2006, the model was trialled in selected contact centre sites and service centres from June 2005. The contact centre sites involved in the trial were Hamilton and Waitakere. This process demanded careful project governance and operational planning.

To assess the quality of planning, we examined project documentation and talked to contact centre and service centre staff directly involved in the trial. We did not examine the planning processes leading up to full implementation throughout Work and Income.

Main findings

Project planning for the New Service Model trial was comprehensive. The contact centre was directly involved, ensuring that operational risks and implications were identified and addressed at the outset. Joint training supported the need for the contact centre and service centres to recognise their close working relationship. CSRs were provided with relevant and easy-to-use information and guidance.

The role of the contact centre

With the introduction of the New Service Model, the contact centre took on a fresh role. CSRs had to assess new clients’ circumstances and identify their needs and work readiness before considering whether a benefit might be appropriate. Using this information, they determined what type of assistance was needed, with a focus (where possible) on helping the caller to find a job or prepare for employment. The New Service Model requires CSRs to spend longer talking to callers. CSRs are also more involved in deciding whether a client is ready for work or whether a caller is likely to be eligible for a benefit.

Involvement of the contact centre in project governance

The contact centre was closely involved in project governance. This helped to ensure that the implications for the contact centre were considered from the outset.

Project papers showed evidence of close collaboration between contact centre representatives and the national Work and Income project team. The General Manager Contact Centres was part of the project steering group responsible for designing the model. The contact centre project manager was directly involved in designing and trialling the model. Project meetings involved contact centre representatives, the Work and Income project team, and representatives from the service centres.

Planning for deployment in the contact centre

Contact centre involvement in designing and delivering the trial was well planned. A detailed deployment plan outlined the process and tasks necessary to prepare the contact centre for the trial.

A number of issues had to be addressed, including technology, business processes, and preparing contact centre staff. These were clearly identified. Teams from the two contact centre sites in the trial met to discuss and resolve these issues.

Managing the risks

Risk management was an important part of the project’s governance. Risks for the contact centre (and for the project as a whole) were identified, and a risk register was prepared for trialling and implementing the new model.

There was close collaboration with the national Work and Income project team in managing these risks. A status report prepared by the project co-ordinator in the contact centre operations team kept track of the completion of tasks, such as training, communications, and liaison with the service centres in the trial.

Working together with Work and Income service centres

The success of the New Service Model relies on effective collaboration between the contact centre and service centres. Planning for the introduction and implementation of the model focused on a seamless process between the two parts of Work and Income.

Joint preparations were undertaken between the two contact centre sites involved in the trial, and between the contact centre and the service centres. CSRs joined staff from the service centres for joint training. This training gave case managers and CSRs a good understanding of each other’s role, and an appreciation of how they needed to work together to make the New Service Model work. The working relationships between the two groups were supported by liaison arrangements between the service centres and designated staff at the two contact centre sites involved in the trial.

Selecting and training CSRs

Work and Income recognised that CSRs would need particular skills to handle this new type of call. Selected CSRs were trained in preparation for the trial.

Training followed a clear timetable, and the contact centre worked with the Ministry’s policy staff to prepare a training package. Training included briefings for managers and CSRs. Selected staff were given special training to provide guidance to CSRs at the two contact centre sites involved in the trial.

Further training was provided for all CSRs before the New Service Model was implemented throughout Work and Income in May 2006.

Information and guidance for CSRs

During the trial of the New Service Model, CSRs had access to useful information and guidance. This was prepared in close consultation with the contact centre to ensure that it met CSRs’ needs. Guidance material included a decision support tool to help CSRs decide how best to assist callers, scripts, and standard answers for frequently asked questions from callers.

Improvements from the trial

Trialling the model gave Work and Income the opportunity to evaluate and refine the New Service Model, and to use those lessons to prepare for implementing it nationally. Call reason codes were created to record call types and identify the kinds of questions raised by callers. CSRs also had the opportunity to give feedback about the usefulness of scripts and other tools, and about any other information they needed to handle the new type of calls.

Planning for outbound calling

Work and Income introduced outbound calling in October 2004 to inform the public about the Working for Families package. Since that time, the contact centre has completed a number of campaigns and made more than 500,000 telephone calls.

Outbound calling is a growing part of the contact centre’s work. Campaigns need to be well planned and implemented to achieve their objectives without affecting the service level and quality of the contact centre’s handling of incoming calls. We examined project documentation and talked to contact centre and Ministry staff to assess whether campaigns had been planned and carried out systematically and comprehensively, having proper regard to the operations of the contact centre.

We looked at whether:

  • the campaigns had clear objectives and were well planned, with contact centre involvement; and
  • training was provided, and CSRs provided with access to the necessary information and guidance.

Main findings

The outcomes sought from campaigns were clearly defined, and the contact centre was involved in planning. CSRs received training and had access to the necessary information and guidance material.

Campaign objectives, design, planning, and implementation

There were clear business outcomes for the outbound calling campaigns we examined. The groups of clients whom Work and Income wanted to target with outbound calling campaigns were well defined.

Project documentation showed close collaboration between the contact centre and the Work and Income campaign sponsor. For example, the contact centre worked closely with the national client manager in Work and Income to design a campaign targeted at clients receiving New Zealand Superannuation payments. The national client manager helped select CSRs to participate in the campaign, and briefed them on its objectives.

A predictive dialler automatically places outbound calls, using a list of telephone numbers chosen by client benefit type and kept in a separate database. When answered, calls are directed to an available agent. CSRs we spoke to expressed no concerns about the accuracy of the call list or the operation of the predictive dialling technology.

Staff are rostered for outbound calling campaigns, although possibly for only part of a day or week. The scheduling of outbound calling takes into account service levels and expected volumes of incoming calls. For each campaign, a specified number of calls needs to be made. Operations analysts can change the distribution of calls to ensure that enough CSRs are available to meet these targets.

CSRs record the outcome of outbound calls, using different codes for each campaign. These records are an important source of information about the success of outbound calling campaigns.

Training, information, and guidance

CSRs told us they had received the necessary training for outbound calling campaigns. This was confirmed by the training records we examined. CSRs we spoke to considered the training packages useful. The training and information packages we looked at were comprehensive.

To date, training has been restricted to selected CSRs. However, we were told that ongoing training in outbound calling is to become standard for all CSRs.

A variety of information and guidance has been prepared to guide CSRs in making outbound calls. This guidance includes scripts, flowcharts, and answers to frequently asked questions. Call scenarios explain how CSRs can best deal with a variety of responses from callers.

Expert colleagues, known as “site champions”, are also available to help CSRs handle outbound calls.

Quality of outbound calls

Outbound calls are included in the sample selected to evaluate call quality, and for the contact centre’s monthly survey of client satisfaction. The contact centre is considering amending its call evaluation framework to reflect the growing number of outbound calls made by CSRs.

The client satisfaction survey is designed for inbound calls. A different set of questions would need to be asked to accurately assess the views of clients on the quality of outbound calls. We were advised that this will be considered if the budget is available.

Extending outbound calling

The Christchurch and Lower Hutt contact centre sites make outbound telephone calls. The contact centre is moving to carry out this work from other sites as outbound calling becomes a core part of its business. It is also preparing a comprehensive set of training, quality control, and rostering procedures for outbound calling.

page top