Call Centres - Why HMRC should steer clear

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By Simon Sweetman

Yesterday I phoned a call centre. No, not HMRC, but a private sector organisation. I should have known better. I was routed from Ireland to India and dealt with somebody who did not understand my query. I was then routed to someone who did understand but who then fobbed me off. Nothing unexpected about that.

But it set me wondering why HMRC is moving inexorably to larger and larger call centres as its favoured way of dealing with what it calls customers.

For about the last twenty years (well, all right, since 1979) it has been evident for those in government that the private sector does it better. When I was in the Revenue they introduced perf...

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17th Oct 2005 13:19

Waste of time & money
Why can't we have call centre numbers that just ring until there's someone to take your call, rather than having to stand around listening to mindless music, grilling your neurons if on a mobile, and wasting your time and money on a 0845/0870 number ?

BT at least has a ringback facility under which they phone you.

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By Anonymous
18th Oct 2005 10:54

HMC service standards have already dropped
As Simon says, the current driver is quantity, not quality. The private sector has gradually learnt that de-skilling simly means that something which could previously be dealt with in one call, is now requiring half a dozen. So the cost effectiveness of the argument rapidly gets eroded.

At the Government level, my experiences with the Inland Revenue have given me the impression of staff who are keen to help, but haven't got the knowledge. However, the old Customs & Excise was a different kettle of fish. I used to be able to phone the local Droitwich office and the staff there were excellent. Polite, helpful and very knowlegeable. That facility has now gone and access is via a "regional call centre". The quality of service has dropped dramatically.

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18th Oct 2005 16:08

Not just call centres, but face-to-face meetings cut.
Currently the ordinary taxpayer can walk into an HMRC 'enquiry office' and, after some waiting around, may actually speak to someone face to face about thier tax/ tax credit problems. This may be about to change with the new HMRC 'channel strategy' for dealing with customers. The new strategy is being piloted in several HMRC offices and it works like this:

1. Joe Public walks into the HMRC office but is approached by a "floor walker" who points him in the direction of a telephone to call the relevant helpline to answer his query. If the call centre chicken says Joe should see a real live HMRC person the chicken CAN NOT make an appointment for him.

2. Joe approaches the 'floor walker' agian for help. He is told he can make an appointment to see an HMRC but that appointment cannot be on the same day. It is not possible to ring up to make an appointment.

Outcome: Joe has to make two trips to the HMRC office to get to see a real person.
If HMRC were a bank we would all 'try another bank' as the adverts advise us to when we can't get an appointment to see the bank manager.

Rebecca Cave

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