Performance of the contact centre for Work and Income.

Work and Income is one of the main service delivery arms of the Ministry of Social Development (the Ministry). The performance of the Work and Income contact centre (the contact centre) is critical to the efficient and effective delivery of income support and work assistance to large numbers of New Zealanders.

We assessed the performance of the contact centre against recognised good practice and against its own standards. Our examinations focused on its performance in delivering services to callers, and on its systems for managing staff, controlling quality, and supporting operations.

The work of the contact centre is evolving as it delivers a wider range of services. This makes it increasingly important that the contact centre and Work and Income’s service centres (which deal with people face to face) work closely together and have a good understanding of what each group does and the environment each operates in. Contact centre business processes and practices must also be closely aligned to overall Work and Income policy.

To test how these relationships worked in practice, we examined how the contact centre prepared for its role in piloting Work and Income’s New Service Model. We also looked at how the contact centre prepared to undertake outbound calling campaigns. Outbound calling campaigns are intended to help Work and Income be more proactive with its clients – people receiving state-funded income assistance (for example, a benefit or New Zealand Superannuation).

Our findings

The contact centre’s management systems and processes are consistent with good practice. These systems encompass responsiveness to clients, staff recruitment, training, performance management, quality control, technology infrastructure and support, workforce scheduling, and providing guidance to staff. The contact centre has a number of projects underway to enhance its services and business processes.

Our examination of quality checks and client satisfaction surveys confirmed that the contact centre complies with business processes and call handling standards. Contact centre staff receive comprehensive training for the job and are well supported in their day-to-day work, with ready access to the guidance and information they need to answer a wide variety of calls.

The contact centre is effectively contributing to the delivery of Work and Income services. Strong governance, planning, and project management have prepared the contact centre for new roles in helping to deliver government policy.

We make recommendations about two aspects of the contact centre’s operations. The first aspect of its operations is the contact centre’s practice of measuring its service level performance against a monthly target. The contact centre receives more than 400,000 calls each month. Even when the contact centre meets its monthly service level target, the level of service can fluctuate markedly during the day, between days, and between weeks. This means that, on some days, callers wait a long time for their call to be answered.

For any contact centre, forecasting call volumes accurately over short periods can be difficult. Fluctuations in call volumes make it difficult to assign the correct number of staff to meet a specific target at a given time.

However, in our view, callers can expect to receive a reasonably consistent level of service whenever they ring the contact centre. We recommend that Work and Income set a daily target service level for the contact centre, and report its performance against that daily target in its formal monthly reporting to the Work and Income Executive. We also recommend that the contact centre identify all possible causes of current variations in service levels, and provide the Work and Income Executive with an analysis of options for addressing these.

Business planning is the second aspect of its operations where we make a recommendation. The contact centre does not have a business plan for the 2005/06 financial year. An annual business plan would bring together the contact centre’s objectives, funding requirements, identification of risks and opportunities, and planned enhancements to services and business processes. It would also help the contact centre to communicate its vision and direction to staff, other parts of the Ministry, clients, and other stakeholders.

The contact centre told us that it is preparing a three-year strategy that will include an annual plan.

There are other areas where, in our view, the contact centre could strengthen or enhance its existing activities. We have listed these in Appendix 1.

Our recommendations

We recommend that:

1. in conjunction with existing monthly service level targets, Work and Income set a consistent daily service level target for the contact centre, expressed as a range;

2. performance against this daily target be included in the contact centre’s formal monthly reporting to the Work and Income Executive. These reports should include explanations for any variation from the target range, together with a plan to address the underlying cause;

3. the contact centre’s formal monthly reporting to the Work and Income Executive include its service level performance by 15-minute interval;

4. the contact centre identify all possible causes of current variations in daily service levels, and provide the Work and Income Executive with an analysis of options for addressing these; and

5. the contact centre prepare an annual business plan.

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