Monday, 2 August 2010

taking the "service" out of public service

f***ing IRD. a few years ago, this used to be a good government department to work with. i say this, of course, as a chartered accountant who doesn't have to go through the normal public channels. we have dedicated tax agents lines which used to get straight through to a human being within 2-3 minutes, 5 minutes at the most . the person at the other end was friendly and helpful, and most times it was a positive experience.

which is not to say they were perfect - but at the basic level of managing clients day-to-day tax issues, they did well. not anymore. over the last two years, dealing with the IRD has become extremely frustrating. now they have voice recognition software, which i hate. when we ring, before they even put the call through, we have to enter the client's IRD number, the firm's IRD number & pin code, and the firm's telephone number. if you're lucky, you get connected to the next stage of the system, which means you can leave a request for someone from the IRD to call you back. if you're unlucky, you get told that the line is overloaded and disconnected.

still, last year you could expect to get a call back within half an hour. now, they won't call back before 45 minutes and sometimes it's even longer. aside from the fact that it's disruptive to be putting files back and having to pick them up again when you're in the middle of something else, it has also become really difficult if you work part time. when they call you back, they ask for your firm's name and firm's telephone number, even though you've already entered the information when you went through the tedious process of booking the call back

i put in a call at 1.45pm last week. i didn't get a call back til 2.55pm. the matter wasn't quickly resolved, and at 3.02 i said that i had to leave to pick my kids up from school. do you think the young man on the other end of the line was friendly, helpful and understanding? tui ad.

i was basically told that if i hung up, the matter wouldn't be resolved and i'd have to go through the whole process again. no, he couldn't call me back because call centre staff are not allowed to make outward calls, and no he couldn't resolve the matter without me hanging on the other end of the line, even though there was nothing that i could actually do about it and i had given him all the information i needed. it was just so bizarrely stupid.

i can't imagine what it must be like for the general public to deal with IRD. but i got a taste of that last week, when i tried to call from home on the general phone line, on behalf of an NGO. the phone book says that the call centre is open til 8pm every day. well i called the business line about 30 times last friday between 4 -8 pm, and i couldn't even get to the stage of being put on hold. i was disconnected every single time, on the basis that the lines were overloaded.

now it seems to me that this is false advertising. if they say the call centre is open, then you should be able to get through. if this was a private company, there would be any number of avenues to make a complaint, the last resort being "fair go". but where do you go to complain about a department that is now severely understaffed, and is no longer providing the service that it is supposed to provide? hon peter dunne? tui ad.


Deborah said...

The cutbacks actually start to bite after a while. There's only so far you can cut the public service before you start cutting the service to the public.

Even so, a little sensitivity wouldn't go amiss. What's with the IRD staffer not realising that not everyone works 8.30am to 5pm. Especially in the call centres: there must be plenty of people there who work shifts around childcare needs. Probably all he needs to do is look into the next cubicle to be able to work out that many workers have childcare responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the staffer is well aware of childcare responsibilities as well as the fact that the world doesn't exist only between the hours of 9 - 5.
I know I've been there and have been on the receiving end of these exact calls.
Don't put it all down to insensitive staff - there's a bigger culture derived from protocol, policy, internal structure, financial limitations that impact on the service given to you. Stuff that the average call center worker has very little control over, even if they wanted to and ESPECIALLY if they're keen on keeping their job. The people there aren't just jerks who f with you because they can.

Lucy said...

i can't imagine what it must be like for the general public to deal with IRD. but i got a taste of that last week, when i tried to call from home on the general phone line, on behalf of an NGO.

This is only one person's experience, of course, but over the years I've always found the IRD to be helpful and easy to get hold of - and I usually have to ring in the evening. The last time would have been, oh, last week? So I am kind of surprised you had that much trouble.

Carol said...

I've had trouble with getting onto IRD lately. I've had to contact them over a couple of things.

The first one was over my student loan. I realised that according to my records I must have finished paying off my student loan, put it was still being deducted from my pay. I couldn't get through to them by phone. A relative suggested contacting them by email. This required registering, which I did, but as soon as I finished I got a message that I needed to phone IRD to activate my registration...??!! Back to square one.

I got hold of someone at IRD by phone a couple of days later and finally sorted out the student loan thing, but after the hassle involved with getting hold of IRD, I never activated my online registration.

The second issue was a week or two ago: I got the call-back within a couple of hours & sorted out the issue. But, a call-back is not always convenient as often I try to make such calls as I'm heading off out to attend to some other matter.

BTW, I had assumed that when I finished paying back my student loan, they would automatically stop taking it out of my pay. In fact, I had to change my tax code for that to happen. Surely there should be some system notifying people they've paid back the loan as soon as....?

stargazer said...

let me be clear - it's not individual call centre staff that i have a problem with. it's the cuts in funding that mean staff can't provide the level of service they should be providing. there's probably also a lack of sufficient training in some cases, and possibly a change in attitude from the top that filters down to coal-face service provision.

and i can assure you that frustrations i have at my workplace are not one-off, but are being felt by many staff who have to deal with the IRD.

A Nonny Moose said...

I'm sure everyone has a painful IRD story at various points in their life, and it can seem like the person you (eventually) get on the line is the conduit for frustration.

But having been a little privy lately to the work culture of IRD, I'd tend to agree with Anon - it's not the actual person, it's the ridiculous red tape, form and policy.

IRD sound like they try to do as much as possible to create a welcoming work environment for such a high staff turnover.

I'm guessing that the voice recognition system was put in place to avoid the frustrations of long waits on hold, but it seems they've replaced one frustration with another (having to wait for the call back).

I feel for your (and everyone's) frustrations dealing with IRD. We just have to remember that the person on the other end is at the mercy to protocol as much as we are.

Anonymous said...

"i can't imagine what it must be like for the general public to deal with IRD"

I received a letter from IRD about my Working for Families. I don't qualify anymore (I only ever did once) but each year they send me information and statements. They left out some details about my childcare arrangements and so I thought - even though I don’t qualify - I should let them know because, you know, IRD can be punishing if you get things wrong with them.

The wait times to speak to a person were horrendous so I went through the call-back rigmarole. Problem: it won't accept a cellphone number and it has no way of recording an extension number. I don't have a direct line a work, but use an extension. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn't figure hot how to leave information about my extension. I left copious message and never got a call-back.

Finally, I arranged to start work late and called from home… sat around waiting for the call back. I berated the poor guy who rang me but I wonder, how to officially register my complaint?

Apparently there is a way to deal with extension numbers but it was so blardy unobvious and I only have reason to call IRD every so many years - how was I supposed to know this????

Frustration is an understatement!