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Birmingham city council call centre still not up to scratch

Backbench councillors said satisfaction levels remained too low and have launched a further inquiry into the service.

Birmingham City Council

Residents contacting Birmingham City Council’s call centre are showing higher levels of satisfaction since the facility was brought in-house last autumn, according to a report.

The service, which deals with thousands of calls per day on a range of services from bin collections to benefits, has seen ratings for happiness among users rise since Capita-Service Birmingham gave up the contract in November.

However, backbench councillors said satisfaction levels remained too low and have launched a further inquiry into the service.

Capita had originally claimed its satisfaction rates were 97 per cent, but councillors, who were inundated with complaints, found the methodology flawed and instigated new text message surveys last year.

The subsequent independent surveys found customer satisfaction rates of around 45 per cent last spring under Capita .

The city council took the decision to bring the call centre in house after finding woeful levels of customer service which were blamed on ‘a profit driven call centre rewarded on increasing call volume’ rather than focusing on quality of service.

In particular they found the information taken by call handlers too often was not acted on by the council departments concerned.

The satisfaction rates took a massive dip following the transfer to council control in November but subsequently the rate rose to 56 per cent by May this year.

Chairman of the corporate resources scrutiny committee Waseem Zaffar (Lab, Lozells and East Handsworth) said: “The honest and blunt truth is that the numbers do not make good reading. Clearly the performance is not anywhere near where it should be.

“I wonder if what is needed is a culture change.”

He explained that as an Aston Villa fan he recalled a point last year when the new manager Tim Sherwood said that ‘players had got used to losing’ at the club and so some fresh blood was needed. “Are there some parts of the service who have got complacent?”

The committee is set to investigate how the centre deals with refuse collection calls and complaints and housing repairs.

Committee member Coun Ken Wood (Cons, Sutton New Hall) thought that the large scale roll-out of wheelie bins had exacerbated the problem. “It has sentenced the call centre to death,” he said.

Call centre manager Chris Gibbs replied that there had been closer working between the centre and council departments since the council took over – with regular meetings to pick up concerns.

He said when somebody complained about a missed bin and they get a message that it had been picked up but it had not, “it makes all of us look like fools”.

And commenting on the modest rise in satisfaction he added: “Whilst all of these are positive trends it is recognised that this is still a low baseline and that there is still much work to be done by both customer services and the service areas to improve citizen satisfaction.”

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