Housing NZ call centre

June 7th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Housing New Zealand has had to hire almost the same number of staff to run its new call centre as it made redundant to set up its “more efficient” system, figures obtained by Labour show.

In April, the state corporation changed the way it operated, shutting its local office doors to its 200,000 tenants and members of the public with accommodation emergencies, and directing inquiries through a new customer service call centre.

The changes led to 70 frontline positions being axed.

The centre was touted as being able to cope with 1 million calls a year but has failed to keep up with demand after receiving 119,000 calls in April alone, 53,000 of which went unanswered.

Labour housing spokeswoman Annette King said answers she received from Housing Minister Phil Heatley showed the corporation had been forced to employ 68.5 additional staff for the call centre.

“All they have done is shuffle jobs from one area to another. But it doesn’t stop there: there is going to be even more employed.”

yesterday apologised for waiting times of up to 40 minutes, although Mr Heatley has said the average waiting time was about eight minutes.

I think Labour has a fair point here. The concept of a call centre may have been sound, but if it actually means more staff and worse service then it is not a good thing. Inquiries should be made of whether demand was under-estimated or the length of calls was miscalculated.

In terms of the waiting time – even eight minutes is a very long wait. It is slightly more tolerable if the call centre software can tell people how long the likely wait is, or their position in the queue. Anyone know if it does? This should be a function of all modern call centres.

The average time can be skewed by extremes. What I would be interested in knowing is what the median response time was, plus the response times for say the 1st, 10th, 25th, 75th, 90th and 99th percentiles.

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15 Responses to “Housing NZ call centre”

  1. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    Just another day in NACTional management-topia. Coalface level employees are lazy, inefficient, worthless, ungrateful scum with no knowledge or expertise worth a damn, and they are what’s holding us down.

    “Sack the lot of them and make them all re-apply for their jobs” – arseholes.

    Fail to achieve any saving / streamlining / improvement in the service – arseholes who were WRONG in their ideology.

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  2. BlairM (2,286 comments) says:

    If they just sold all the state houses and increased the WINZ housing supplement to compensate, they could get rid of the call centre, and in fact, the entire department, altogether! There, fixed that for you…

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  3. hmmokrightitis (1,508 comments) says:

    Start up call centres are always in struggle mode in the first few months. As call patterns emerge that starts to change, and as customers get used to using the new process, things tend to settle down. One would hope the solution they are using is smart enough to self report wait times, but there may be the additional issue of underestimating demand, which is quite often bloody hard to define anyway.

    Anything over a 20 second wait is, by industry standards, long. But then sadly,be it G or LG sites, that standard is ignored as you dont have customers, you have captives. Yes, there is a cost to providing good or better response times, and that has to be balanced with the inherent service levels for a no-choice service provision.

    Most of the G or LG call centres Ive looked at, including NZ’s own Bombay, Palmy Norf, have reasonable software managing their call centres, but the processes supporting it can use some beefing up.

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  4. grumpyoldhori (2,410 comments) says:

    BlairM You must be a raving socialist, sell all the state housing and dump the housing supplement.
    Plenty of room for tents for the homeless.

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  5. Boglio (76 comments) says:

    With an average wait time of 8 minutes it sure beats travelling to a HNZ office and waiting in a queue for 20 minutes….even with a wait time of 40 minutes it has to be faster than going to an HNZ office and waiting in a queue

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  6. Boglio (76 comments) says:

    And it has to be much cheaper for the enquirer

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  7. bhudson (4,734 comments) says:

    hmmokrightitis,

    I agree – the mere fact that they have changed to a call centre model will be driving call volumes as people call to find out what impact it will have on them and their interactions. Inland Revenue has a similar issue – they know that sending out correspondence creates to the call centre as taxpayers call them to ask what the letter means for them. (Perception of change driving calls.)

    There are available technologies for managing wait times – again they could seek advice from IR with their ‘Virtual Hold’ deployment.

    It will be interesting to see if the volumes drop to a stable level significantly lower than what they experienced during the start up phase.

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  8. peterwn (3,149 comments) says:

    Anyone in the call centre business should be aware of the work of Agner Erlang see:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agner_Krarup_Erlang

    He developed the mathematical basis of traffic engineering and automatic telephone exchange design. The ‘Erlang’ is a measure of telephone traffic. His work is equally applicable to call centres, both those receiving calls and those making calls, especially the ones where a computer dials a number and it is hoped someone comes free to handle the call when the customer answers.

    His techniques were bread and butter for the former NZ Post Office engineers (the ones defamed by Richard Prebble in one of his books) and meant you got connected 99% of the time when making a phone call. Some had a dry sense of humour like the one who said that providing for Auckland’s increasing phone demand was a ‘ten ulcer job’).

    Alas, it seems that those who set up call centres have never heard of him.

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  9. Auberon (869 comments) says:

    HNZC cock up #6,675.

    The whole place needs a top to bottom clean out.

    Shambles.

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  10. Mark (1,360 comments) says:

    Fuck I love call centres, customer service at its best

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  11. immigant (950 comments) says:

    @hmmokrightitis

    20 seconds is not an industry standard in NZ, don’t pull numbers out of your ass. 8 min is a bit high but still acceptable given that call centre is in NZ and not in India where costs are a lot lower and more staff can be hired.

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  12. orewa1 (428 comments) says:

    Change for the sake of change, the root cause being too many managers and politicians wanting to establish their turf. Re-open the offices!

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  13. Viking2 (11,125 comments) says:

    One of the major problems with offices is that they develop a bias towards customers. I.e. which tribe and are you in my circle. It also costs more to house and is often just too convenient or inconvenient according to the needs of the caller. Try going to HNZ at 5.30 or before work at 7.30. Didn’t work.
    The question is why should people get down to their last few hours to solve their housing crisis and why should the taxpayer respond to people who do this?

    Its just whinging kiwi’s who need to get their shit together.

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  14. PaulL (5,872 comments) says:

    Just a new system. Any new system has issues. It’s the job of oppositions (and unions) to make hay from these issues, it’s the job of government to say “nothing to see here, move along.”

    The real question is whether it will stabilise, and once stabilised, is it better. Important questions include medians and percentiles (as DPF has pointed out), also:
    – how many new calls occur – how many people couldn’t be bothered going to a housing NZ office, but can be bothered picking up the phone (ultimately this is an improvement in service – filling previously hidden demand)
    – how long was the wait in an office
    – how long do we need to keep the temporary staff for, is it just whilst teething issues are sorted out?

    In short, I’ve done enough system implementations to know things like this always happen, you always get a kicking in the media, and then 3 months later it settles out and we find out the real story.

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  15. Spoon (101 comments) says:

    Even if they have the same number of staff, won’t they still be saving tens of thousands on rent by having everyone in one place, and not paying for floor area for “customers” to use?

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