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Making sure that true emergency callers get priority with an intelligent out of hours service

Call centre rep
Date Published

27/09/2021

Reading time

4 mins

Our expert out-of-hours team ensures emergency callers to London Borough of Barnet Council, including the most vulnerable citizens, get quick and reliable help, no matter when they need it.

We’ve reduced costs for the council without compromising on service quality by improving data analytics and filtering out non-emergency calls, ensuring real emergencies get priority treatment.

When there’s danger to life or limb, local authorities, housing associations and other public sector providers have a duty of care to provide support to citizens, such as emergency homelessness, social services support, housing repairs and highway incidents. Unfortunately, many out-of-hours calls to councils are not, in fact, urgent emergencies and could be dealt with during office hours. It can be difficult for local authorities to  manage these non-essential calls cost-effectively while still making sure that they handle sensitive and urgent calls accurately, reliably and cost-effectively, 24/7. 

In 2018, the London Borough of Barnet was receiving an extremely high volume of non-emergency calls to its out-of-hours customer service numbers. This meant that those who genuinely needed emergency help were having to wait longer. In October 2018, the council partnered with the out of hours partnership and worked with Capita to help improve the quality and efficiency of the out-of-hours service in the borough. 

Since then, our team of highly skilled and experienced out-of-hours customer service agents has answered more than 25,000 calls to 13 of the council’s services. Of those calls, 16,000 were related to social services and emergency homelessness, and affected the most vulnerable in the borough. We also support emergency calls for building security and maintenance, terror threats and highways emergencies, among other services.

The emergency response team answers calls when the council offices are closed, following carefully crafted call handling scripts and workbooks that ensure callers get the right help, no matter who they talk to or what service they need. If the call is deemed to be an emergency, the team passes the case data to officers at the council to provide immediate support to the person in need. We continuously review our processes and outcomes with the council’s service leaders to update our call centre scripts in line with changing legislation or local challenges and ensure we can respond to the unpredictable customer demand.

Vitally, we implemented a rigorous data capture and analysis process, which allowed Barnet Council to see clearly which calls were emergencies, and which were not. We provided the data and insight that allowed the council to identify where savings could be made by adding additional messaging to their Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. By identifying which types of non-essential calls were causing the most work, we helped the council to add options to their IVR that informed the caller that their call was not an emergency out-of-hours service and advised them to call back when the service re-opened the following morning. Implementation was done gradually, focusing on one non-emergency high call volume driver at a time.

Our state-of-the-art technology has also given the council:

  • Streamlined and simplified call processes that keep call times as short as possible for the caller and reduce costs
  • Automated escalation procedures to ensure that each service request is addressed and that end-to-end processes are completed
  • A dedicated customer portal where council staff can listen to calls or download reports
  • A full audit trail of all system and user activity for all enquiries logged on the system, enabling effective performance management and complaint handling.

As a result of our work with the council, residents who are facing an emergency situation can get through to the right team more quickly, and clearer communication ensures that all callers understand what steps they should take next. The out-of-hours service is now more cost-effective, and better reporting and accurate analysis is helping the team to be more productive. The proof is in the data: non-emergency call volumes in Barnet have dropped to 23.3% on average in 2021, compared to 59.8% in 2018, creating savings of up to £2,500 per month.

So, what’s next? Our agreement commits us to ongoing, continuous improvement and cost efficiencies, and the council benefits from ongoing system upgrades. We have learned that continual review of the data is key, and that an informative IVR to drive away non-emergency enquiries is a clear cost saving mechanism. Data continues to be monitored and the IVR messaging will be frequently reviewed to ensure ongoing service improvements and savings.

Find out more about our emergency out of hours service
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“The dedicated out of hours call service provides a reliable service for our borough. The expertise and knowledge the team has built up provides assurance that our most urgent calls come through to the right team. The team has been proactive in ensuring the systems and processes are robust, and only appropriate emergency calls come through, ensuring efficiencies for the authority. Good relationships have been established across the various Council departments which helps maintain a well-run and responsive service.”

Barry May, Head of Customer and Digital Services, Barnet Council.

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