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Bulawayo dials Joburg Connect
26 August 2011

The Zimbabwean city sent a delegation to Joburg’s call centre, Joburg Connect, to get some insight into the technology that is used and how the business is run.

WAYS of establishing and maintaining an efficient call centre were put to the test when a delegation of officials from the Bulawayo city council visited the Johannesburg Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (Jike) at Proton House in Roodepoort.

 

Bulawayo town clerk Middleton Nyoni
Bulawayo town clerk Middleton Nyoni
The town clerk in the Bulawayo council, Middleton Nyoni, explained the reason for the visit: “We want to try to learn as much as possible about how you run your call centre, as we want to improve our service delivery.”

 

Hardware and software that Johannesburg used, maintenance, the nature of the calls that the City received and how they dealt with them, as well as turnaround time and challenges were identified as areas about which the Zimbabwean officials wanted to learn more.

“We know that your call centre, which has been running for years, is refined and we want to leave with sufficient knowledge to set up our own call centre,” he said.

Joburg’s call centre was established in 2001. “The objective of the call centre was to ensure that the citizens of Johannesburg no longer had to call numerous numbers to enquire and/or request services or get problems solved,” said the acting deputy director of Joburg Connect, Fiona Read.

There are three different types of call centre in the city: revenue, general and emergency. Revenue and general take incoming calls from residents regarding billing queries, as well as queries for other services offered by the City such as waste collection, roads, parks, environmental health and the zoo and civic theatre.

Emergencies
The emergency call centre fields all life-threatening calls, logs them and then sends the details to the emergency management services (EMS) or metropolitan police department dispatch centres, which then send out the necessary resources to attend to the incident.

David Thabe, the EMS station commander, explained the logistics of balancing scarce resources with the number of calls received. On average, the call centre receives 80 000 calls a month, which are then dispatched to six communications centres. From there, the details of the emergency are sent to one of the 28 fire stations across Joburg’s seven regions.

 

David Thabe
EMS station commander David Thabe
To deal with emergencies, there are 46 ambulances, 12 response cars and 106 fire engines. Thabe explained that after a call had been logged, it should take 12 minutes for the specific unit – be it ambulance or fire engine – to get to the scene.

 

“The issue has always been the high volume of calls, and our problem is that once you have taken a call, there should be a unit on the ground ready to help and serve.”

Calls are ranked according to three priority levels. Priority one calls are classed as such because if the person needing help doesn’t get it immediately, he or she will die; priority two is classed such that if emergency services does not get there within 12 minutes, the case will become priority one.

The question of false alarms was raised, and Thabe said that emergency services needed to send a unit to the scene anyway, to verify whether the crisis was real or not. This cost the emergency services precious time and money that it could not afford to waste, and could contribute to why there was an average 2 percent abandoned rate on emergency phone calls.

“This rate looks low, but it is much too high considering the cases are life threatening,” Read said.

The revenue and general call centres receive an average of 120 000 calls a month, answered by 113 agents. There is, on average, a 20 percent abandoned rate. “It is not optimal but we are improving monthly,” Read added.

She explained that the centre was trying to work towards a 90/30 service level – meaning 90 percent of calls were answered within 30 seconds. The average time at present that customers waited for their calls to be answered was 120 seconds (two minutes).

Lags
Possible reasons for these lags, Read said, was that the resolution of queries was not attended to timeously by the departments responsible; feedback from departments in terms of progress was not captured; the ratio of operations managers to agents was not optimal as call centres were “grossly understaffed in this area”; and that system problems led to slow response times.

However, there are also a number of strengths that enable the centre to sit at a resolution rate of approximately 70 percent. “There is one point-of-contact for all consumers; we have multi-skilled call takers; emergency call takers are trained to give telephonic life support; and there is a history available on consumer interactions with the council,” she said.

There was also a strong support system in place to deal with emergencies, said the deputy director of front office support, Anne-Marie Botha. “First tier systems administrators provide technical and helpdesk support to customer interface by ensuring effective operation of the telephony and other systems within the call centres and front office support departments.”

Front office support also deals with outage messages on the interactive voice response (IVR) system. “If a water or electricity outage occurs, then the call centre operations manager will inform the systems administrators to place an outage message on the IVR.

“This provides callers with a list of the areas that are affected by the outage, reducing the number of calls through to the call centre,” she said.

Quality assurance is on the agenda too. A team of 10 people listen to all recorded messages daily and carry out assessments: should the service provided by the call centre agents not be up to par, call centre management will be told and will then take action such as providing more training.

The system in place ensures that all of these tasks can be carried out as painlessly as possible. CIC (Customer Interactive Centre), which is American technology, is the system being used. It is an all-in-one platform with continuous quality monitoring, start-to-finish event tracking, interoperability with third-party systems, and predictive dialling based on agents’ behaviour, to name just a few of its uses.

Jike’s interaction with officials from the Bulawayo city council took place on 25 August.

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