Audit: Georgia agencies can improve call center operations

People from a variety of organizations assist survivors of Hurricane Sandy at the FEMA Call Center in the Joint Field Office in Forest Hills, N.Y. on Dec. 2, 2012. Chris Kleponis | FEMA

(The Center Square) — Georgians who turn to some state agencies’ call centers for help cannot always reach representatives and sometimes face long waits when the departments are experiencing high call volumes.

The findings were included in a new audit from the Georgia Department of Audits & Accounts, which examined six state agencies’ customer service approaches and call center technologies. The review included “limited reviews” of chatbots, email and websites.

The audit found that most call centers “struggle to provide appropriate customer service” during periods of high call volumes, and agencies’ call center staffing levels may be insufficient. Additionally, call centers use technology with varying success, and while chatbots can be used to lower call volumes, they are less accurate than responses from agency staff, the audit concluded.

The report recommended that agencies monitor their technologies to ensure they work properly.

The audit recommended that state agencies establish performance goals for their call centers and track the causes of customer dissatisfaction, such as the time it takes to reach an agent. The audit also suggested that agencies define sufficient staffing levels to ensure effective call center performance.

For example, the Department of Revenue’s Taxpayer Services call center’s volume peaked during the first half of the year, leading to “abandonment rates” more than four times than those later in the year. Similarly, on average, callers to the Secretary of State’s office experienced hour-long waits during licensing season at the end of the year.

Three agencies reject many calls when volumes are high, the audit revealed. The Department of Human Services rejected nearly half of the calls to one of its centers in 2023, while one revenue department call center rejected up to a quarter in the early months of the year.

According to the audit, the Secretary of State’s office rejects calls because of volume but does not track how many.

According to the audit, the six agencies — which also included the Georgia Technology Authority and the driver services and natural resources departments — generally agreed with the findings. In some cases, agencies said that the recommendations were irrelevant, such as not tracking rejection rates because they don’t reject phone calls.

By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor

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