Jobcentre Plus staff are put off from encouraging benefit claimants to use e-channels because of bad experiences with their own IT systems and contact centres, a government report reveals.
Ongoing problems with contact centres and an "inadequate" Customer Management System have apparently led staff in local offices to "distrust technology".
New research by the Department of Work and Pensions documents an entire catalogue of serious staff complaints about the service claimants receive from contact centres.
Under the claims process, new benefit applicants ring a call centre where their basic details are taken down. An operative then call backs to gather information to input into CMS and arrange an appointment at a local office to process the claim.
Staff at all levels who were questioned for the report severely criticised the contact centres' performance.
Operators were said to be inadequately trained, resulting in customers being wrongly advised. Due to under-resourcing, callback times were "very poor", sometimes taking weeks – in turn putting more pressure on local offices, who were often having to deal with mistakes caused by "inadequate contact centre processes".
"Contact Centre delivery is not perceived to be as efficient as the face-to-face method by a majority of staff in the current climate", says the 214-page report. "Indeed in present form it is argued that Contact Centres create greater problems and inefficiency."
On top of this, staff were scathing in their criticism of CMS, which one staff member described as "appalling". The IT system was regarded as unreliable, unstable and deficient, creating "uncertainty among staff of the efficacy of certain alternative channels" and "inefficiencies in dealing with and processing claims", says the report.
As another staff member commented on CMS and efficiency: "Basically, the customer is waiting up to two to three times longer to get benefits processed because of CMS".
According to the report, Jobcentre Plus staff "do not have any confidence in CMS and what it is delivering." As a result, staff have "little faith" that its replacement, CMS2, will improve the situation, with most "dreading" its introduction.
Staff in one district noted: "We should be encouraged by the introduction of new technology and systems… yet the more it goes on the more discouraged we become."
This distrust in technology was matched by a distrust in senior management. A general feeling among employees was that "feedback from staff is ignored with the result that one bad system after another is implemented."
Another section states: "Staff opinion is that they are being made to promote services that they know are problematic – and that they are increasingly trying to sell to the customer a service that they know is not working."
In a further development, the report said that the poor design and functionality of an intranet system had "impacted negatively" on staff perceptions of "using and promoting alternative channels".
Another reason why e-channels were not fully promoted was a lack of basic IT skills among staff in local offices, which was again blamed on a lack of training.
The report says the evidence suggests that Jobcentre Plus has a "rather fragmented and incoherent" approach to developing its service delivery channels. "There appears to have been no unifying strategic purpose", it adds.
"The rhetoric of what alternative channels were supposed to deliver in terms of efficiency and better customer service, from a staff perspective, has not been seen in the reality of the overall day-to-day business process."
The report, which contains 15 recommendations for Jobcentre Plus, is here (pdf).
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