VHT Helps Government Agencies
Government agencies serve us, the citizens, who fund their operations with tax dollars. Needless to say, we expect a lot from our government agencies in the form of good customer service. Unfortunately, many of us have come to expect the service to be poor due to personal customer experience. Online forms can be complicated and difficult to fill out. Wading through bureaucracy is time consuming and frustrating. So, when a government agency takes steps to improve customer service, it makes a huge impact. Agencies need to change the perception, not only because it reduces escalations, which saves time and money, but because it also restores people's faith in their government.
Both Virtual Hold and Conversation Bridge from VHT help government agencies help citizens get access to more services by bridging the gap to a real person who can help them. We want and expect service from government, so give it to them by offering a callback from online forms, mobile apps and voice menu systems when people run into self-service dead ends and feel that the next logical step in the process is to just talk to somebody. VHT's 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, demonstrates 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's intelligent callback solution, 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 chunk out of 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 to 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 to do something about it.
While one solution — hire more people in the call center — might seem obvious, that's not the best or most economical solution. One reason is because of the unpredictable peaks and valleys in call volume.
Khan's department handles five types of calls in both English and Spanish. They are 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, such as 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 directly related to periods when people are out of work, 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," Khan says, "but still a high percentage of people — particularly those filing their first claim — need to talk to someone in order to complete the process."
The Department began investigating ways to improve customer service. "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 IVR (Interactive Voice Response) port for someone to wait on hold," Leavitt says. "At least one day a week, and sometimes two or three days a week, callers to our office would receive a fast busy signal that indicates all lines are full, 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 that occured after waiting on hold for too long. Repeat calls from these customers uses up even more precious resources because they are using a port and requiring service from an IVR for a second or third time. Eliminating these calls can go a long way towards improving workforce and resource efficiency.
"In the very first week of implementation, our CSRs (customer service representatives) noticed a huge difference," she says. "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, the 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 call center terminology, that translates into shorter average call handle times — a key metric indicating improved performance. Abandons were also 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," Leavitt says.
"Hands-down, I would do it again."