This is why Sheffield Council has taken ages to answer your phone call

Callers to Sheffield Council were left waiting on the telephone for almost an hour as the authority wrestled with staff shortages and computer system problems.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Monday, 18th October 2021, 9:32 am

The council’s contact centre takes telephone enquiries but a report covering April to September 2021 has shown how it struggled during that period.

Mark Bennett, director customer services, said: “The service took responsibility for additional calls supporting residents during the pandemic, such as holiday free school meals and winter hardship grants.

“Maintaining staffing levels has been challenging during the pandemic and this has led to capacity issues, which in turn has increased waiting times for customers.

Sheffield Town Hall

“Experienced customer services staff moved to the council’s Test, Track, and Isolate Team, as well as staff turnover and absence.

“Training and recruitment has been challenging as staff adapt to hybrid working and the service has had to adapt to new methods.

“Recruiting agency staff was unsuccessful as the demand for temps outstripped supply.

“Although the contact centre has returned to full opening hours, some back office services are still not able to operate at full pre-Covid levels

“Difficulty contacting colleagues for referrals is an issue, which leads to longer call handling times

“New customer records and phone systems were implemented during the pandemic which interrupted a smooth transition. This slowed down call handlers as they learned new systems and encountered some issues.”

Revenue and budgets

Callers went from waiting around 15 minutes to waiting almost an hour.

Many calls were prompted by 77,000 letters regarding failed direct debits while in addition, several thousand payment reminder and final notices letters were sent weekly.

This department’s performance remains a significant challenge.

Finance staff are catching up on post-pandemic billing, meaning there’s a constantly high level of calls.

Recruitment is underway for four vacancies but takes extra time because CRB checks are needed.

Corporate

Waiting times doubled from eight minutes to 16 because of “seasonal pressures” including parking permits; holiday free school meals letters sent with incorrect voucher codes; an increased demand for register office ceremonies and pest control requests.

Council housing

Significant rent calls peaked on Mondays and Fridays and there were persistent telephone problems, including calls being cancelled rather than forwarded if staff are unavailable and some requests being sent electronically rather than a call transfer.

Council housing repairs

Waiting times doubled from 15 to 30 minutes but demand steadily reduced through July.

There were calls about appointment letters arriving late because of a postal issue.

A significant backlogs of repairs meant chase calls/appointments queries made up a third of demand.

A new system will help the council rearrange tradesmen appointments which should reduce the number of chase calls.

Working weekends dealing with housing repairs has reduced Mondays’ call volumes.

Recruitment

To shorten recruitment time, training has been refined and reduced from six to three weeks.

Extended opening hours are being considered along with live web chats as operators can deal with up to four enquiries at once.

Automated voice recognition could route callers without initially involving a call handler.