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ESTHER MCVEY: Endless muzak is not good enough… This telephone queue hell is a malaise that needs shaking off


Any organisation that serves the public needs to put the public first. 

Unfortunately, key customer service measures in the public sector, such as speed of service, regularly lag behind those in the private sector. 

And, according to the independent Institute of Customer Service’s Satisfaction Index, since Covid lockdown levels of customer service have suffered.

This is a malaise that needs shaking off – with a renewed focus put on looking after customers.

Too often, some public bodies have given the impression that things should be run for the convenience of the staff rather than the customer. 

We cannot allow that culture to take hold.

ESTHER MCVERY: Key customer service measures in the public sector, such as speed of service, regularly lag behind those in the private sector

ESTHER MCVERY: Key customer service measures in the public sector, such as speed of service, regularly lag behind those in the private sector

Last week, the Probate Office reduced its phone helpline hours to just 9am to 1pm to clear chronic year-long backlogs.

Other organisations have told customers they will only allow the ‘digitally excluded’ to use their telephone service. 

This isn’t good enough and that’s why I have written to the bosses of public sector organisations that deliver frontline services asking them to report back with hard numbers on their customer service performance. 

I want them to explain how they set performance measures, how they make themselves available to the public, how easy they make it for people to contact them, how long it takes to resolve a member of the public’s issue, how easy it is for people to complain and how responsive they are to that feedback.

Last week, the Probate Office reduced its phone helpline hours to just 9am to 1pm to clear chronic year-long backlogs (File image)

Last week, the Probate Office reduced its phone helpline hours to just 9am to 1pm to clear chronic year-long backlogs (File image)

Whenever anyone phones a public body, they should not just hear a variety of music being played interspersed with a recorded message saying how important their call is, but never important enough for someone to actually answer it.

They should also expect timely responses to letters and emails.

Once I have the data, I will ask the worst performers to explain themselves and show plans to improve their service levels.

I also want to know how much the level of working from home impacts service levels. 

If having people in the office for more days is needed to deliver a better service to customers, that is what must happen, and those at the top must lead by example.

Meanwhile, credit must go to those public bodies that are doing well.

The Passport Office is a prime example. It fell behind during Covid but by implementing a recovery plan, passport processing times have more than halved since 2022. 

Other government agencies need to raise their game in the same way.We want the public to be proud of our public sector, and know it’s delivering a world-class service.



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