Housing NZ cuts call centre waiting times

03:40, Jun 13 2012

Housing New Zealand has reduced waiting times at its call centre to five minutes but the corporation is bracing itself for further problems when it unrolls the next stage of its technology revamp.

The expanded 0800 number service was launched in April amid claims by Housing Minister Phil Heatley it could handle 1 million calls a year. However, it failed to keep up with demand in its first month after receiving 119,000 calls - 53,000 of which went unanswered.

There were also reports of callers waiting up to 38 minutes, although Heatley had previously said the average time on hold was eight minutes.

Its performance was an embarrassment for the minister and the corporation following concerns a new number had to be set up for maintenance contractors who couldn't get through, and complaints by social housing advocates they were unable to access help for vulnerable families.

The launch of the call centre is part of a wider change in the way Housing NZ operates, and has led to the closure of its local office doors to all but scheduled appointments and the axing of 70 frontline tenancy manager positions.

Transformation head Philippa Jones said average waiting times had now been reduced to five minutes and calls to the centre had reduced from a peak of 30,000 in its first week to 22,000 last week.

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Housing NZ had hired 48 new staff for the call centre and a further 19 people would be employed until October when its new systems are expected to be up to speed.

The corporation is spending about $92 million replacing five 20-year-old programmes with two new systems.

The first tranche was rolled out when the new call centre was opened in April and the next stage will be launched in August.

Housing NZ has previously apologised for the problems with its 0800 number.

Jones said the corporation was now preparing for possible further "negative impacts" in August when the second tranche of new technology would affect every part of Housing NZ's 1000 staff.

Its main concern was making sure there was a minimal effect on Housing NZ's 200,000 tenants, because call centre staff would be using a new system and could take longer to access information.

"They will have a lot of support in terms of people available on site to help them but it will look different, it will feel different.

"We just need to be prepared as much as possible."

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