Government-run call centres lack the control and financial discipline of the private sector and cost far more to run, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
The report called for more reliable information on costs and performance, so that call centres could demonstrate that they are delivering an effective service.
Sir John Bourne, comptroller and auditor general at the NAO, said that the report painted "generally a good picture of a public that is mostly satisfied with the service received from government call centres".
But he warned that there is room for improvement. "Call centres need to collect full and reliable information about their services, and departments need to be sure that efficiency and quality are really being delivered," he said.
One call centre singled out in the report was Equality Direct, an advice centre on discrimination in the workplace. Calls to this cost the taxpayer £27.50 per minute. Two other centres cost the taxpayer more than £5 per minute.
The report also found that many callers failed to get through to call centre operators because of inflexible staff rosters and poor call management techniques.
Mike Havard, managing director of customer management consultancy CM Insight, and an expert advisor to the NAO report, told vnunet.com that there is significant room for improvement.
"In most cases costs are high because they are inadequately understood," he said. "Managers must disaggregate call centre costs from general operating expenses to see exactly what the service is costing.
"This will provide a solid basis for decisions about operational changes, resource planning adjustments and technology investments that will reduce costs without compromising service."
Havard added that centres must put the caller first, and focus on the accuracy and completeness of the information they provide.
He also pointed out that measuring call length often encourages agents to end the call without fully resolving the caller's issue.
"This will, almost inevitably, result in follow up calls which further overburden the system," he said.
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