If you’ve ever tried to call Centrelink and found it impossible to get through to a member of staff then you’re not alone, as new data has revealed that a whopping 48 million calls to the welfare service provider went unanswered in the past year.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the number of unanswered calls has actually decreased since 2016-17, when 55 million callers failed to get through. However, the number of customer complaints regarding Centrelink’s service have risen by 68,00 to 237,000, with a customer satisfaction rate of 46.5 per cent.
Human Services Department secretary Renée Leon told the Fairfax publication: “I don’t know that we’re going to solve it this year, but I hope that we will continue to drive it down.”
The news comes as Minister for Human Services Michael Keenan vowed to improve customer service for those who access the government body, announcing on Tuesday that there would be a boost to staff numbers with the promise of an additional 2,750 call centre workers.
“We know there are times, especially during peak periods, that getting through on the phone can be difficult,” Keenan said in a statement. “That is why we are investing in these extra staff to ensure that we meet community expectations and provide a better all-round experience.”
However, the government has turned to external agencies to fill the vacant roles rather than employing public servants, with the Courier Mail reporting this is because “contractors are faster, more efficient and take fewer sickies”.
Keenan added that while he majority of the one million calls a week received by Centrelink were answered within the target timeframe of 16 minutes, he wants the process to be improved, making it quicker for Australians to get through to a call centre worker.
He said: “The reality is that customers don’t really care who is answering their call, as long as it is answered quickly by someone who is well trained and capable of resolving their issue for them.”
This outsourcing model was first used by Labor to boost staff numbers at the Australian Tax Office in 2008, and Keenan’s decision to extend it to Centrelink comes after a successful pilot model launched in October last year.
The trial saw an additional 250 staff engaged through Serco, with those staff answering more than 3.2 million calls in the past 12 months. Busy signals were also slashed by 40 per cent. Contractors also answered more calls each day, had less down time between calls, were cost effective and ranked equally for customer satisfaction.
“This dispels many of the myths perpetuated by Labor that outsourcing leads to higher costs and reduced standards of service,” Keenan said.