It appears that the Department for which I work is rubbish at answering telephone calls, according to a report issued today by the Commons Public Accounts Committee. In 2008/09, out of 103 million calls made to HMRC's main helplines, 45 million went unanswered and, even if you get through, the average hold time before an advisor is available is two minutes, and up to four minutes at peak times.
And whilst those figures have improved this year, whereby 77% of calls are answered, one can only say that, from the perspective of its 'customers', it isn't good enough, especially when callers are using 0845 numbers.
You could argue that the problem is linked to the ongoing programme of job cuts, some 25,000 in total, and I for one would. Yes, efficiency savings are necessary, and you certainly can't afford to employ people to sit around waiting for calls, but as you reduce staff, the scope for having spare resources to deal with peaks of demand falls. Ultimately, it comes down to the level of service that the public want, and are willing to pay for.
However, the Department does little to help itself. With only 38% of call centre staff time actually spent on dealing with telephone calls and linked follow-up work, compared to the industry average of 60%, something is clearly wrong. The failure to invest in technology is another weakness, with the absence of technology to tell callers how long they can expect to wait to reach an advisor a major cause of frustration.
To add to the hurdles that stand between the Department and improved performance, there is a clear sense that its staff have little trust in the ability of senior management or in their sense of empathy. It is a truism that happy staff perform better, take less sick leave and are more willing to step up to the plate when times are tough. And, unfortunately, an ageing staff, with one eye on retirement, under threat of more job losses and with continuing drops in real salaries on the horizon, are less likely to want to be the Department's salvation.
Undoubtedly, call answering statistics will improve as a result of this report. Of course, one wouldn't want to comment as to what other work will be left undone to achieve this... Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee will find out in a few years...