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Using Call Centres to Deliver Public Services

Government call centres in general provide a service which is good value for money and over three quarters of callers are satisfied with the services they receive but some centres need to do more to meet the public demand, Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today. He also recommended that all call centres ensure that they have reliable information on both their costs and performance so that they make sure that they are delivering an effective service.

83% of people who had phoned a government call centre were satisfied with the service, a survey carried out for the National Audit Office revealed. The survey also showed that 60% of the public are willing to get advice and services by phone. This compares to 40% who said that they were willing to use the Internet.

On average, 84% of calls are answered within 20 seconds by either an automated system or an agent. But some centres at certain times cannot cope with the number of calls they receive. For example, although 94% of callers to the Child Benefit Centre Enquiry Line are satisfied with the service they receive, over twice as many calls are met with an engaged tone as are answered. Ways in which demand can be better managed include better deployment of staff, encouraging callers to use quiet times and improved IT support.

About a third of call centres’ calls cost the government less than £1 per call minute. The National Audit Office identified three whose calls cost more than £5 per minute. The most expensive of these was Equality Direct whose calls cost the government £27 per minute. Nearly a fifth of call centres did not have information on their costs and almost half could not provide information to calculate their cost per call minute. Without such information, call centres cannot determine whether their costs are reasonable.

The government should provide better information for the public on the services which they can obtain by telephone. There is no single directory of call centres. Helplines could be advertised more effectively. Only 14% are advertised in phone books which is the first place people could be expected to look.

Call centres should use a range of measures to assess the quality of their service. The accuracy and reliability of the information provided is a vital element. The NAO found that measures to monitor the quality of information, such as mystery shopping or systematic analysis of recorded calls, were among the least used.

Sir John said today,

“Call centres can provide services and information in a way that is convenient and cost effective and most of the public tell us that they are willing to use them. There is a generally good picture of a public that is mostly satisfied with the service received from government call centres. However, there is room for improvement. In particular, the call centres need to collect full and reliable information about their services and departments need to be sure that efficiency and quality are really being delivered.”

Notes for Editors

  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  2. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office employing some 750 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.


PN: 77/02