Nearly one in four calls made to the Falkirk City Council contact centre, which deals with everything from lost containers to home repairs, has gone unanswered.
Concerns that customers have to wait so long to get through that they simply give up were raised today (Thursday) in the Falkirk Council scrutiny committee.
Councilors from all parties had requested a report on the volume of complaints they receive about the service.
The report showed that between July and December 2020, it had taken an average of almost eight minutes to answer a call.
In those months, with a monthly average of 28,427 calls received, only 16,583 were answered, a total of 58.54 percent.
Last year, the council hired two new staff members, and the time needed was reduced to just over four minutes, on average.
Again between July and December, the number of calls made was 23,512 and 17,871 were answered, a total of 76.4 percent.
Councilors heard that in addition to the increased staff, an automated payline was introduced, meaning customers can make payments over the phone without waiting to speak to a call manager.
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But members were eager to hear that more would be done to reduce wait times and prevent residents from hanging up in frustration over delays.
Falkirk South Councilor Lorna Binnie said: “When I’m away from home in my communities, unfortunately almost everyone I talk to says they have trouble communicating with Falkirk Council.
“I’m really pleased to see these improvements, but what I would say is that one in four calls still go unanswered.
“That makes me wonder if we have enough call handlers, knowing what I hear from my community.”
Cllr Binnie was told that “between 9 and 9:45 am, even if we put 200 call handlers, we wouldn’t be able to answer all the calls.”
But they are looking for ways to deal with busy periods, and a pilot using social work staff has managed to reduce the time it takes to get a response.
From October to November, calls were also dispatched to local office support staff, adding 15 trained call handlers for busy mornings.
That saw a reduction in abandoned calls of more than 40 per cent, and the council will now look at other areas where this could work.
The service manager also promised to look at the performance of individual agents to find out how much time they spend on calls and help reduce any “idle time.”
Members also heard that a significant number of calls are “interactions,” made by residents calling to check on progress after requesting a service.
A new digital project aims to find better ways to update customers and help them monitor progress for themselves.
Upper Braes Councilor John McLuckie said he didn’t think things had gotten better enough as figures showed fewer people were calling.
“The reality is that a lot of those people may not call back because they can’t get through,” he said.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.