VHT Helps Government Agencies’ Customer Experience
Citizens expect a lot from government agencies. Tax dollars support government operations, and these agencies are put under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver good, effective customer service. Unfortunately, these expectations are often met with disappointment, due to poor customer service experiences. Online forms can be complicated, phone directories confusing, and dealing with bureaucracy can be difficult for citizens to deal with. When a government agency takes steps to improve customer service, it makes a huge impact. Aside from saving money, changing people’s perception can restore faith in government.
Both Virtual Hold Technology (VHT) Callback and Conversation Bridge can help citizens get access to more services by bridging the gap to a real person who can help them. People want and expect service from government. That’s why VHT Callback and Conversation are so useful. Agencies can offer a callback from online forms, mobile apps and voice menu systems when people run into trouble in the self-service channels and just want to speak with a real person. VHT solutions will provide a better experience for people calling in for services. Plus, the savings realized from VHT’s operational efficiencies in the form of improved average handle times, reduced call abandonment and overall workforce optimization demonstrate that you are also a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
The total amount of time and productivity lost to waiting on hold is staggering, as discovered recently by the State of Connecticut Department of Labor. By implementing VHT Callback, those calling the Connecticut unemployment office saved a combined hold time of over 45 years.
For the unemployed, waiting on hold can be especially painful, observes Katherine Leavitt, Information Technology Analyst with the Connecticut Department of Labor, because it takes a toll on an already pinched pocketbook.
“When you lose your job, you may have to make cuts in your household budget to make ends meet,” she says. “That may mean eliminating your home phone line, and possibly cutting back on cell phone minutes, too. So when you’re sitting on hold for an hour-and-a-half watching your minutes disappear, it’s difficult.”
Amer Khan, Director of Call Center Operations for the department that administers unemployment claims for the state, says, “Our mission is to protect and promote the interests of Connecticut workers, and that means providing the best possible service to our customers in an effective, efficient manner. To process claims, we need to talk to people and answer their questions.”
The department typically handles about 15,000 to 20,000 calls a week, with 80 people taking calls.
The financial crisis and the resulting recession, which has caused high rates of unemployment across the U.S., tested the limits of unemployment offices throughout the nation. Aware of the frustrations of callers to its office, and the hostility faced by the agents serving callers angered by a long wait, the Connecticut Department of Labor decided find a better solution.
While one option — hire more people in the call center — might seem obvious, it’s not always the best solution. Unpredictability in call volume from season to season can cause budget inefficiencies that can throw off months of careful planning.
Khan’s department handles five types of calls in both English and Spanish: Initial claims, continued claims, re-employment assessment program and all other calls, plus an ad hoc option that can be tied to any timely issue, like a major layoff by any large company or questions about filings during tax season.
The office experiences spikes in call volumes at various times of the year, such as the end of the construction season, major layoffs from large employers, summer breaks, during tax season or when there are major changes in federal or state legislation.
“Online filing helps to automate the claims process,” says Khan, “but still a high percentage of people — particularly those filing their first claim — need to talk to someone in order to complete the process.”
In order to better serve customers, The Department began investigating ways to improve their experience
“Our goal is to be accessible to the people who need us,” Khan says. “We want to treat people as we would want to be treated. That means providing a more efficient process to deliver service, and optimizing our resources to meet the needs of our customers.”
“We found that we had 828 lines coming into the call center that would often fill up because we had to physically hold open an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) port for someone to wait on hold,” Leavitt says. “At least one day a week, and sometimes two or three days a week, callers would receive a busy signal, so they couldn’t even get to the IVR menu.”
This meant multiple call attempts by callers before they ever even had the chance to wait on hold, as well as many abandons or hang-ups after waiting on hold for too long. Repeat calls from abandoners take valuable time and resources. Eliminating these calls can go a long way towards improving workforce and resource efficiency.
“In the very first week of implementation, our customer service representatives (CSRs) noticed a huge difference,” says Leavitt. “On day one, CSRs stopped me in the hall and told me that instead of being angry at the outset of a call, people were thanking them for calling them back!”
In addition to happier customers and happier representatives, department heads noticed improved operational efficiency in the call center. Khan says, “Because our agents didn’t have to spend the first few minutes of every call listening to and trying to calm an unhappy customer, we were able to handle more calls.”
In a call center, that translates into shorter average call handle times — a key metric for improved performance. Additionally, abandons were reduced to almost zero during peak calling periods.
Today, customers are very satisfied, Khan says. “We have heard kudos from customers who were accustomed to having to hold with us for hours. Customers using the callback option are not agitated from having been on hold for an hour or two. The positive impact on employee morale, since agents don’t have to listen to customer complaints about not being able to get through, is terrific.”
“The investment is worth the effort,” says Leavitt.