Got a problem? Don’t call us, say councils

MORE people are being told to avoid calling the Worcestershire Hub in a bid to save cash.

The council call centre, which has come under fire before for dips in performance, needs to cut £44,000 from its budget over the next year.

Now councils are trying to encourage more people to use the internet to solve queries – a move they are calling “channel shifting”.

They say the average telephone call to the centre costs about £3 to taxpayers, but making contact online works out at 86p.

The future cuts to the Hub were debated during a meeting of Worcester City Council’s performance management and budget scrutiny committee, where some politicians said it had “scary” implications.

Councillor Liz Smith, leader of Worcester’s Liberal Democrats, said: “Over the next two years the savings proposals make quite scary reading.

“I’ve got concerns about the Worcestershire Hub and since I’ve been on this committee its performance hasn’t always been up to scratch.”

Julie Slatter, service manager for performance, improvement and efficiency, said: “Some of the savings will be around shifting to less expensive methods of delivery. It’s all about moving to cheaper ways of assisting people.”

She also said the hub had “consistently delivered savings” and that they were aiming to make web queries the main focus.

“We’re looking at innovation and we’re focused on transforming the service – we shouldn’t underestimate how much channel shifting is going on,” she said.

The Hub’s call centre, which has about 50 staff, is the front line contact for queries from potholes to school closures. It operates on behalf of Worcester City Council, Worcestershire County Council and district councils in Wychavon and Malvern.

It deals with more than 670,000 calls a year to its contact centre in Perry Wood Walk, Worcester.

Waiting times for calls surged to an average of 72 seconds last year, up from a low of 22 seconds in 2010, but performances have started to pick up in recent weeks.

Comments (9)

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7:56am Wed 6 Feb 13

green49 says...

Councillor Liz Smith, leader of Worcester’s Liberal Democrats, said: “Over the next two years the savings proposals make quite scary reading.

“I’ve got concerns about the Worcestershire Hub and since I’ve been on this committee its performance hasn’t always been up to scratch.

I have always found the Hub excellent service, quick and helpful but then these idiot councilors who can see no further than there next expenses need to get a grip as we as taxpayers pay for this service so if it saves lots will we get a council tax refund?
Councillor Liz Smith, leader of Worcester’s Liberal Democrats, said: “Over the next two years the savings proposals make quite scary reading. “I’ve got concerns about the Worcestershire Hub and since I’ve been on this committee its performance hasn’t always been up to scratch. I have always found the Hub excellent service, quick and helpful but then these idiot councilors who can see no further than there next expenses need to get a grip as we as taxpayers pay for this service so if it saves lots will we get a council tax refund? green49

8:34am Wed 6 Feb 13

skychip says...

Who do we need to contact if we don't call the Hub. I have always found them very helpful.
Who do we need to contact if we don't call the Hub. I have always found them very helpful. skychip

8:54am Wed 6 Feb 13

Redhillman says...

The principal of the Hub is fine, but I find all too often that it exists to deliberately prevent council workers from speaking to residents, to enable the, to remain cocooned in their offices and detached from the real world. For example, I have tried to speak to the highways department on occasions but am frequently told they're not in or are "unavailable" when the Hub try to put me through. It's the person at the Hub who then bears the brunt or cannot help further because they don't have the information required. Years ago you could speak to council staff direct or turn up at their offices.
The principal of the Hub is fine, but I find all too often that it exists to deliberately prevent council workers from speaking to residents, to enable the, to remain cocooned in their offices and detached from the real world. For example, I have tried to speak to the highways department on occasions but am frequently told they're not in or are "unavailable" when the Hub try to put me through. It's the person at the Hub who then bears the brunt or cannot help further because they don't have the information required. Years ago you could speak to council staff direct or turn up at their offices. Redhillman

9:08am Wed 6 Feb 13

More Tea Vicar says...

Handled correctly, contact over the web could be a good thing.

I got sick of trying to contact the Council years ago. Phone calls never got through to the right person, and because they were phone calls, their very existence could be denied.

Contact via the web should allow there to be a written comms trail, reducing the Council's costs, and ability to deny all knowledge.

And phone contact seems anachronistic nowadays anyway, in the 'Amazon-age'.
Handled correctly, contact over the web could be a good thing. I got sick of trying to contact the Council years ago. Phone calls never got through to the right person, and because they were phone calls, their very existence could be denied. Contact via the web should allow there to be a written comms trail, reducing the Council's costs, and ability to deny all knowledge. And phone contact seems anachronistic nowadays anyway, in the 'Amazon-age'. More Tea Vicar

10:44am Wed 6 Feb 13

i-cycle says...

I totally agree with More Tea Vicar's post. With reduced staff numbers and more remote working as the Council's cut their costs to help balance the national debt it makes less sense to use the phone rather than the internet and especially as a much higher percentage of the population have and increasingly use e-mail and text as a better, easier and cheaper way of communicating. At a guess I suspect when you ring 'The Hub' (at your expense), have to hold for an answer (at a cost to your time) and get through the operator has and will increasingly have more problems putting you through to the officer you need to speak to. Result, they take your details, put them down from their understanding of what you are ringing about (which may not always be a correct interpretation) and send an e-mail for the relevant officer to pick up when they are available. So....Isn't it easier to cut out the operator and save you time and money whilst also helping the Council to reduce costs, which as a rate payer helps you save by not having to increase the rates as much.

As long as a telephone service remains to deal with enquiries from those who don't have e-mail or aren't used to using it this all makes complete sense.

So instead of unfairly criticising the Council why not take a bit of personal responsibility, congratulate them for taking the initiative and encourage family and friends to use a more efficient and cheaper way of interacting with them.
I totally agree with More Tea Vicar's post. With reduced staff numbers and more remote working as the Council's cut their costs to help balance the national debt it makes less sense to use the phone rather than the internet and especially as a much higher percentage of the population have and increasingly use e-mail and text as a better, easier and cheaper way of communicating. At a guess I suspect when you ring 'The Hub' (at your expense), have to hold for an answer (at a cost to your time) and get through the operator has and will increasingly have more problems putting you through to the officer you need to speak to. Result, they take your details, put them down from their understanding of what you are ringing about (which may not always be a correct interpretation) and send an e-mail for the relevant officer to pick up when they are available. So....Isn't it easier to cut out the operator and save you time and money whilst also helping the Council to reduce costs, which as a rate payer helps you save by not having to increase the rates as much. As long as a telephone service remains to deal with enquiries from those who don't have e-mail or aren't used to using it this all makes complete sense. So instead of unfairly criticising the Council why not take a bit of personal responsibility, congratulate them for taking the initiative and encourage family and friends to use a more efficient and cheaper way of interacting with them. i-cycle

7:15pm Wed 6 Feb 13

Hwicce says...

The web contact isn't as great as you think. I put a call into the Highways about a road issue and they kept closing the calls as they were mis-reading what I'd written. I had to raise the same call 4 times before I got to talk to a real person who could answer the query.
The web contact isn't as great as you think. I put a call into the Highways about a road issue and they kept closing the calls as they were mis-reading what I'd written. I had to raise the same call 4 times before I got to talk to a real person who could answer the query. Hwicce

8:17pm Wed 6 Feb 13

grumpy woman says...

Who needs enemies when you have friends like Cllr Smith?
The Hub may be struggling but this is because staff numbers are dropping while management increases.
And if online access is what they are looking for, they need to channel emails directly to the relevant office and not to a generic email from which you get a bland 'Thank you for your email.......I have sent it to.....love Worcestershire Hub,' as I received recently. And this some days after I sent the original email.
Who needs enemies when you have friends like Cllr Smith? The Hub may be struggling but this is because staff numbers are dropping while management increases. And if online access is what they are looking for, they need to channel emails directly to the relevant office and not to a generic email from which you get a bland 'Thank you for your email.......I have sent it to.....love Worcestershire Hub,' as I received recently. And this some days after I sent the original email. grumpy woman

10:47am Thu 7 Feb 13

®og says...

I tried using the "hub" face to face in the Library - after waiting for nearly an hour all I got was someone who typed my query into a computer - I did also take time to point out to a 'manager' that this level of service is unacceptable.
I have spent 30 years of my life designing call centre systems so it is with some authority that I can tell you that whilst e-mail may seem to be the answer it generally takes 20 times longer to resolve a problem using e-mail than it does by speech. This is because in a conversation, when a question arises it can be responded to immediately - most people can talk faster than they can type - when you factor in all of the timing issues and multiple e-mails it is far cheaper to employ well trained call centre staff than to try to resolve issues by e-mail.
Interestingly, a call centre with well trained experienced staff who are paid the correct rate for their skills is far more efficient than a cut down version containing demotivated staff, on low wages and with a high staff turnover.
Before I retired my daily consulting rate was several thousand pounds a day. I would happily give my time for free to avoid any further decimation of the hub.
I tried using the "hub" face to face in the Library - after waiting for nearly an hour all I got was someone who typed my query into a computer - I did also take time to point out to a 'manager' that this level of service is unacceptable. I have spent 30 years of my life designing call centre systems so it is with some authority that I can tell you that whilst e-mail may seem to be the answer it generally takes 20 times longer [in staff time] to resolve a problem using e-mail than it does by speech. This is because in a conversation, when a question arises it can be responded to immediately - most people can talk faster than they can type [including the hub staff] - when you factor in all of the timing issues and multiple e-mails it is far cheaper to employ well trained call centre staff than to try to resolve issues by e-mail. Interestingly, a call centre with well trained experienced staff who are paid the correct rate for their skills is far more efficient than a cut down version containing demotivated staff, on low wages and with a high staff turnover. Before I retired my daily consulting rate was several thousand pounds a day. I would happily give my time for free to avoid any further decimation of the hub. ®og

1:47pm Fri 8 Feb 13

cassamrod says...

Isn't the online option there to give cutomers more choice about the ways in which they can request a service from their council, rather than intended to be a replacement for speaking to a real person?
And what happened to the public being able to have a say in how their services are run?
Isn't the online option there to give cutomers more choice about the ways in which they can request a service from their council, rather than intended to be a replacement for speaking to a real person? And what happened to the public being able to have a say in how their services are run? cassamrod

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