Please hold: Phone call waiting times increase to Calderdale Council

Callers to a council’s customer service are waiting longer to get through and calls are taking more time when people speak to an advisor.

By John Greenwood - Local Democracy Reporter
Sunday, 3rd July 2022, 2:00 pm

Calderdale councillors heard there were reasons for the duration of successful calls lengthening and in turn this had an impact on people waiting for their calls to be answered.

The council’s Assistant Director of Customer Services, Sarah Richardson, said average call lengths to the authority’s Customer First lines had increased due to customers experiencing far more complex issues than before.

These include financial hardship, social isolation and mental health problems.

Calderdale councillors heard average call lengths to the authority’s Customer First lines had increased due to customers experiencing far more complex issues than before.

Another factor was advisers having left the council, or on maternity leave, which left the team with gaps in experience and skills and, also an issue with other councils, recruiting and training had proved “challenging.”

In 2021-22, 215,196 calls were made to the council with 67.60 per cent answered and 32.4 per cent abandoned, with an average wait time of six minutes and 58 seconds and an average call length of four minutes and 50 seconds.

The year impacted in a major way by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-21, saw 225,580 calls made to the council, with 68.90 per cent answered and 31.1 per cent abandoned, with an average wait time of five minutes and 53 seconds and an average call length of three minutes and 53 seconds.

In April and May this year figures showed 38,566 people called the council with 67.4 per cent of calls answered and 32.6 per cent abandoned, with an average waiting time of five minutes and 58 seconds and an average call length of four minutes and 47 seconds.

Coun Megan Swift

Ms Richardson told the council’s Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board resources had often been diverted to support specific initiatives, including offering advice and help on Household Support Fund, Pension Credit applications and more recently the Council Tax Energy Rebate Scheme.

With a cost of living crisis gathering pace, a specialist team had been created to provide early intervention and support for customers identified as being particularly vulnerable.

These were often lengthy calls and often required referrals to other partner agencies and follow-up work to ensure the citizen’s circumstances have improved or are stable, said Ms Richardson.

They worked very closely with voluntary services over people needing top access food banks, she said.

Customer First relied on staff being flexible and working overtime when necessary, including evenings and weekends, which they were doing, to meet workloads.

Coun Megan Swift (Lab, Town) said councillors received a lot of calls themselves from people saying that the phones were ringing a number of times and then cutting off.

Ms Richardson said this had been checked but no fault could be found on the system by IT teams.

“So what’s happening was a mystery, I’m afraid, we’re not sure what’s going on there,” she said

Telephone calls are not the only way the team deal with issues – emails and face-to-face meetings were also part of the service.

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The Library meeting points had proved useful and the Market Street support centre for homeless people had been got up and running again as quickly as possible, she said.

And 14,000 customers contacted the council through its relatively new “webchat” service, one of the first councils to do so, Ms Richardson reported.

In 2021-22, the team received 56,536 emails and held 1,942 face-to-face meetings in some Calderdale libraries.

This compared to the main pandemic-affected year, 2020-21, when 49,337 email inquiries were received, although because of restrictions there were no face-to-face meetings.

In April and May this year, the team received 7,745 emails and held 149 face-to-face meetings.

Councillors heard the pandemic had increased the numbers dealing with the council electronically and now 58 per cent of customers transacted with the authority using electronic e-forms.

Year on year, in 2021-22 views of the council’s web pages were up 39 per cent with almost seven million, while £12.5 million worth of payments were made online.

Figures showed 35,000 customers signed up for waste email reminders in the same year, and 20 per cent of customers had signed up for paperless billing.

In 2021-22 65 per cent of customers were paying money they owed the council by direct debit.