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Unusual calls and patient staff: behind the scenes at a council contact centre

Published: 20 August 2019

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Who you gonna call?

Auckland Council contact centre’s Ashlyn Naidu goes the extra mile for her customers, however, she draws the line at sending someone to test faeces.

“One resident called and said he wanted the council to come to his house and test faeces he found on his driveway,” she says.

“He believed they belonged to a new species of animal and was very adamant about wanting it tested… it was a very unusual 20-minute conversation.”

It was just one of the more bizarre calls the 27-year-old has taken since starting at the Manukau based call centre.

“You never know what you’ll get,” she says.

Her customer service colleague, Jayran Mansouri, agrees.

“I took a phone call from a man who was asking me when the rain was going to stop. He also wanted to know if he needed an umbrella,” she chuckles.

Jayran is one of 222 customer service representatives working at the centre.

With a softly spoken voice, the 26-year-old explains her role is mainly a “problem solving” one.

“The majority of our calls are from people who need help with a problem and it’s our job to make sure what needs to be done is done – or it’s requested to be done.”

Ashlyn says “we are here to try and solve problems for people and those who want information on all our council services”.

Much to the surprise of many callers, the women don’t have a direct line to the Auckland mayor.

“I often have people ask to be put through to Phil Goff,” Jayran says.

Having worked at the centre for over two years, Ashlyn says she’s heard it all.

“I took a call one day from a guy who was really angry about all the red lights he had to stop at on the way to work.”

No matter how bizarre or unusual a phone call is, Jayran says she always tries to help callers.

“I always try to do what I can within the framework I have.”

Getting to the root of a lot of problems is learning to ask the right questions, Jayran says.

“There’s a lot of probing in this job. You sometimes have to ask a lot of questions, so you end up feeling like Judge Judy,” Jayran laughs.

Team leader Elvin Singh says staff can answer 6000 calls a day.

“A large percentage are service related, like transport, parking, rubbish, rates and noise control,” Elvin says.

Elvin says what most people don’t realise is the contact centre is a 24/7 operation.

“If something happens at the weekend people don’t have to wait until Monday to report it.”

While some of the requests his staff can’t help with, they always do their best to assist customers.

If a caller gets irate or abusive, the calls are quickly escalated to a team leader or manager, he says.

Elvin says the council takes health and safety “very seriously” and has steps to manage any threats to staff.

Ashlyn says she learnt very quickly not to take things personally.

“You can’t afford to get emotional if someone is yelling or abusing you. I know they’re not attacking me – it’s a process they’re attacking.”

Ashlyn says she keeps a box of chocolates on her desk for those “stressful” calls.

“You learn not to be sarcastic or condescending.”

Then there are the “nice calls”.

“I’ve had people call to say how nice a development or a garden looks… to be fair it doesn’t happen that often,” she smiles. When it does, the team leaders will distribute positive feedback.

Not all staff work at the Manukau office, with around 100 workers basing themselves at home.

Elvin says staff are well trained and while they can work on “general enquiries” majority work in a specific service area, like waste or rates.

Jayran and Ashlyn have worked at the contact centre for over two years and both agree having a positive attitude, resilient personality and a lot of patience is key.

“This job is not for everyone,” Elvin points out.

You can contact the call centre on 09 301 0101 or through the council’s website.

Read more: Behind the scenes

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