Fewer snags for contact centre customers

10 Jan 2017

A complaint about sausages too thick for a caller's liking and a plea to identify a scary insect were among the unusual calls fielded by Newcastle City Council's Customer Contact Centre (CCC) last year.

Of 120,000 calls fielded by the team of Customer Service Officers (CSOs), 22 per cent concerned development and building matters, 19 per cent were about waste and 16 per cent related to Council rates.

The versatile team of 25 full-time employees also handled a number of less-routine inquiries and went out of their way on scores of occasions to lend assistance when needed.

From the beef with a butcher over fat snags and fear of a mysterious stick insect to finding a new home for a dog, CSOs did what they could within the law and reason to resolve complaints and meet requests.

While powerless to do anything about the sausages, the CSOs managed to re-home the pooch of an ailing pet owner with help from the RSPCA, returned a wallet lost by an elderly man and identified a stick insect in photos sent by a caller too afraid to go outside her new house.

The CSOs also helped a host of lost drivers get back on track in 2016, recommended dozens of restaurants and entertainment options, conducted research on behalf of callers still unfamiliar with Google and even helped free a woman trapped in an outdoor toilet.

"A bit over a year ago, we provided our Customer Contact Centre with new resources to make it a one-stop shop for customers," Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

"Face-to-face service at the City Administration Centre (CAC) is now supported by a modern contact centre as a single point of contact. This means better service and improved responsiveness for our customers.

"I'm delighted to say that they have reduced average phone waiting times from three minutes to 30 seconds and now resolve more than 70 per cent of calls at first contact."

Good will from customers toward the team suggests the new service levels have been appreciated.

"I wanted to pass on feedback that what you do in the call centre is so appreciated," one customer, named Karen, told a CSO recently.

"Being able to ring up and actually talk to someone and explain problems to someone who is so nice and patient is great - you have the patience of saints.

Another customer called Sam said he was dubious the contact centre would be any different when it was first announced, but that he had been won over.

"You have given great service over the past year," he told a CSO late last year. "I appreciate that there's always a calm voice on the other end of the phone."

So successful has the contact centre been in establishing a better rapport that the help has flowed both ways.

One customer, a career maths teacher, returned to the CAC toting text books after a CSO had mentioned her young children's difficulty learning their times tables.

Part of the CCC's improved customer focus has included longer operating hours.

CSOs begin answering inquiries at 7am - an hour and a half earlier for early-morning waste collection inquiries - and operate an hour later to 6pm.

Newcastle City Council's Customer Contact Centre can be reached on 4974 2300.