Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Improving access to council services

Accessing a range of council services will be far easier, quicker and more convenient in the future.

Leeds City Council’s executive board is expected to give the go-ahead to the introduction of a new type of telephone service in its flagship contact centre when it meets next week (17th June).

The technology – called Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – will initially be used for calls to the council’s choice based lettings system. It means residents who want to secure a new home will be able to choose to bid for a property without having to speak to an operator – at any time, day or night.

IVR works by recognising words spoken by the caller in response to questions posed by the system, rather than callers having to press buttons on the telephone keypad. Lines will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, calls will be handled more efficiently and it is anticipated there will be virtually no waiting time.

The IVR technology is so sophisticated, it can detect if a caller is having difficulties and during normal office hours route them automatically to one of the council's customer services officers.

Callers will also have the option of a ‘way out of the system’ at any point during a call (during normal office hours) and will be able to speak to an operator.

Leeds City Council is no stranger to IVR technology. It is already used to enable the payment of council tax bills, rent and parking fines for example. In 2008/09 over 148,000 transactions – with a total payment value of £14 million – were made by IVR.

Although the new system will cost £262,000 to install and develop, it will offer immediate savings and will pay for itself over a short period of time allowing scarce resources to be redirected at other priorities.

Councillor Richard Brett, council leader and executive board member with responsibility for customer services said:

“I’m determined to make it easier for the residents of our city to make contact with the council and access the services they need when they want to. This IVR system will help us do that – especially given the fact lines will be open 24 hours; so a caller will be able bid for a house at two o’clock on a Sunday morning if they really want to!

“We will also follow this development with exploring how other council services can make use of this exciting technology.

“All other ways of contacting the council via the telephone, face-to-face in our one stop centres and use of the website will continue to be available. This initiative is about increasing choice for our customers and letting them decide how they wish to contact us.”

For media enquiries please contact:
Sara Hyman, Leeds City Council Press Office (0113) 395 0393