The councillor who oversees customer call handling at Oxfordshire County Council has apologised after thousands of callers gave up while waiting in September.
Performance figures discussed at this week’s meeting of the county’s cabinet showed that nearly a quarter – 24 per cent – of the 14,274 calls received by the authority were abandoned due to increased demand, staffing levels and how the workforce was deployed.
The council’s target is to answer 90 per cent or more of calls before callers give up.
A report said that the volume of calls went up by 11 per cent from August and had to be handled by a workforce that was approximately 30 per cent below full staffing levels, admitting that the authority “continue(s) to have difficulty attracting suitable candidates”.
It detailed that the council also dealt with 6,249 emails and received 202 webchats across seven service areas of its website, as well as 32 social media contacts from Twitter and Facebook pages.
It added: “Work continues with resourcing colleagues to help rectify this, and different campaigns are being run.
“We have had an increase in offline business and application eligibility work, much of which is time sensitive, meaning we have to redirect resources away from the phones.
“The introduction of workforce management will help to alleviate and coordinate this and inform when and whom it is best to undertake this work at the appropriate times. This should be in place within the next two months.
“We are also undertaking a redesign of teams to ensure that offline and phone work are separated out more effectively to protect the performance of both areas of demand.”
The report also noted that inbound phone contacts to school admissions had more than doubled in September due to the start of the new academic year, adding that “social care activities continue to be where the highest abandonments are due to limited resources”.
Councillor Glynnis Phillips (Lab, Barton, Sandhills & Risinghurst), the county’s cabinet member for corporate services, said: “I would like to offer my apologies to every caller who abandoned their call because we didn’t answer quickly enough.
“This is our front door, the gateway to council services, and we are dealing with approaching 30,000 customer contacts each month, ranging from phone calls to emails to application forms and social media enquiries.
“Over the past months, the percentage of abandoned calls has increased, and this is due to an unexpected level of staff turnover across the different teams in the customer service centre.
“This is not unusual for customer services, but what has affected this target has been the speed of turnover and the level of experience that has moved on from this service.
“During July, 14 colleagues left the service for a variety of reasons, including maternity leave and to take up posts in other parts of the council.
“While the latter is a great advert for the council, being a career choice for many of our staff, a number of these colleagues had four years or more of experience within customer service. This level of loss is not easily replaced.”
Councillor Phillips said that the council is “actively recruiting” new staff, adding: “The report explains the work in progress to reduce the number of abandoned calls, and I am heartened that the October figures are already showing improvement.”