LIKE MANY councils up and down the country we work hard to give support and advice to residents.
For some people seeking advice or accessing services may mean they pay a visit to their councillor, local MP or an organisation like Citizens Advice Bureau.
But what isn’t seen as widely are the everyday successes: the human contact and support offered at the frontline by our unsung heroes at the Contact Centre.
Oldham has a population in excess of 225,000 people so you would expect these staff to be busy people – and they are – but the sheer scale of what they deal with is truly staggering.
We employ 36 members of staff to answer your phone calls through our partner Unity.
Each week these call centre staff answer between 10,000-12,000 calls. Yes, that’s EVERY WEEK!
With an average call volume of 561,000 a year it puts into context the number of people who are coming into contact with the council for a variety of different reasons.
When you call our main switchboard you go directly through to a human being – not an automated machine.
Automation makes sense on payment lines but isn’t always great as a first impression and that might explain why there is a recorded 97 per cent satisfaction rate amongst those who call our team.
Many services can, of course, be automated and in the modern age most people accept that payment on automated telephone lines is convenient and straight forward. Looking forward, however, it is clear we must do all we can to get more payments made online.
As it stands the same number of payments are made by speaking to a ‘human’ as are done online. That just means it is one less member of staff who is available to deal with those issues which really do need a personal touch and it all costs us more as taxpayers.
Based on our most recent information around 65 per cent of Oldhamers now have online access. As you might expect it is mainly older people who are behind in joining the digital age and it is widely accepted that some people will always need an alternative to online in the near future.
In addition to our telephone call centre we also take pride in our face-to-face support at ‘Access Oldham’. Based at the Civic Centre, this is the council’s main customer access point for queries about our services. This is primarily delivered face-to-face, although free phones and PCs are also available there for the public to use.
We employ 16 staff in Access Oldham to ensure that those needing advice and support are seen quickly and that the issues they raise are dealt with efficiently. Each week Access Oldham sees more than 2,000 visitors, which means they greet around 100,000 visitors a year.
Most enquiries here are about Benefits and Council Tax support but it has also become the first port of call for a range of other services such as Free School Meals, Education and Environmental Services.
As well as taking initial enquiries some matters need more time to resolve, so around 3,000 one-to-one interviews per month are also carried out, mainly relating to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefits. Even with that high volume the average waiting time is now around 15 mins with 91 per cent of visitors being seen within 30 minutes.
We are keen to ensure good ‘customer service’ is being given so we also ask those using the service how they rate us. As a sample we receive back around 350 surveys each month both online and in person. Last year satisfaction was at 96 per cent and, so far, this year, it has increased to 98 per cent – not bad going!
Aside from the formal Contact Centre, our local libraries are also vital in delivering services like this. We are keen to see more computers based at these and are rolling out free WIFI so they can help libraries become the modern hub of the community in the way that was always intended.
As councillors and even MPs and advisors we usually get to see those people who are let down and can wrongly assume that is the norm.
Thankfully it isn’t, so it’s good to take a step back today and appreciate all those hardworking frontline staff that are helping so many thousands of people.
Thanks to you all!
Thanks for listening,