Advice to lower Centrelink satisfaction goals rejected

DHS advised to lower Centrelink's customer satisfaction targets.

Government rejects advice to lower DHS satisfaction goals

Rather than being encouraged to pick up its game on the customer service front, the Department of Human Services (DHS) has been told to scrap its agency, Centrelink's customer satisfaction goals.

Advice from consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), commissioned by the Government at a cost of $150,000, calls for the DHS to set more realistic customer satisfaction goals for Centrelink.

Aside from being under fire for its robo-debt recovery system and 42 million Centrelink calls receiving an engaged signal in the last 10 months, Centrelink has failed to even remotely come close to its 85 per cent customer satisfaction rating in recent years.  

The department’s approval levels have been slipping since 2012, when it reached a peak satisfaction level of 71 per cent.

In response to these poor ratings, senior officials paid PwC for a 16-week review of how the DHS measures success and performance.

After the review, PwC told the DHS that it would continue to fail unless "substantial change to the customer and service experience" was implemented.

"It's clear that a target of 85 per cent will not be achieved under all models for Centrelink without substantial change to the customer and service experience," said the report.

"Consideration could be given to revising the KPI [key performance indicator] target to be in line with other global welfare providers and to be achievable based on historic performance."

However, it is believed that the Government has rejected the consultancy firm’s advice.

"No decision has been made to make any changes," said DHS spokesman Hank Jongen.

"Given that many people accessing welfare are experiencing difficult circumstances, the customer satisfaction targets intentionally set a high bar."

But PwC believes that this ‘high bar’ might undermine the department’s performance.

"Unattainable targets can result in motivation and performance decreases while increasing risk-taking behaviours," said the report.

Opinion: Can expectations of Centrelink be any lower?

Considering that Centrelink hasn’t even come close to realising its lofty customer satisfaction goals, would it be better served by lowering its bar and, in turn, lowering expectations?

One of the things that rankles people more than poor service is broken promises.

If you walk into a restaurant expecting silver service and you receive a grunt and a paper napkin, you’re going to be disappointed.

That’s basically what Centrelink is doing by setting these high targets.

If Centrelink wants to retain a high bar, then it should do so internally. Don’t advertise it to the multitude of customers who, already dissatisfied with their situation, have it rubbed in their faces even more by receiving poor customer service. That’s when they can actually get a face-to-face or have their call answered.

It’s fair to say that it’s not all Centrelink’s fault, and it’s especially not the fault of their employees. Constant funding cuts, resource and staff reductions, not to mention the roll-out of a robo-debt recovery system that was clearly not properly tested (in fact, the Government knew it was faulty) and we have a recipe for dissatisfaction.

It may seem as though the Government is doing the right thing by maintaining a high target, but if these targets cannot be met, then maybe it is better off lowering the bar. At least it will mean that more people have a realistic expectation for the level of service they’ll receive from the department – and maybe a few more will walk away satisfied.

Do you think the Government should set more realistic goals? Or is setting these high targets a way for the department to commit to better service?

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    COMMENTS

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    *Imagine*
    13th Jun 2017
    10:55am
    The main problem is that our welfare system has become over bureaucratic. Too much time is wasted on checking income and assets for pensions. If all aged persons over 70 were to be paid a basic pension, free from any predetermined wealth accumulated over a lifetime of work, then it would free up tens of thousands of hours of checking, recording, amending assets and income changes. If the pension aged person was then charged tax, in the same manner as every other income earning person, then the impost would not be great, but it would free up Centrelink staff to deal with real welfare issues instead of shuffling pension papers, chasing hidden wealth and valuing assets etc. Imagine that.
    HDRider
    13th Jun 2017
    11:19am
    That's a very simplistic look at a fear more complex problem imagine! I'm quite sure that a centrelink worker would paint a far more in depth view of the more complex problems within the dept.
    Over 70's? Surely you mean retirees? Them there is disability and reporting, dole, all the different claims for all the refugees which have to be carefully checked, all the single parent payments etc etc, I call it the 'sick lame n lazy' parade and wouldn't be a centrelink staffer fore all the tea in China for the crap they have to put up with.
    In turn, every time the government try to tighten up our welfare system to stop the cheats Johnny be Good comes crawling out of the woodwork and berates them and refuses to accept any change!
    IMHO the whole thing is a nightmare and yes, it needs sorting, but, it is not just one single area, it needs a complete re vamp.
    dougie
    13th Jun 2017
    11:20am
    The lack of satisfaction for Centrelink clients can be put down to two matters.

    a. The understaffing level at Centrelink. NB This has been accepted by the Minister as a further 25o low level inquiry officers are to be appointed.

    b. The high level of expectancy from clients that they are always right. When queried on investments or other income streams I am assured that many have "forgotten" or do not see that Centrelink has a right to know their private business so they do not tell them and when found out are indignant.

    Sure the staff in call centres will always be open to a mistake here and there and when their work is reviewed this is pointed out to them and they are required to fix and advise. The stress that these officers are placed under by callers must be immense as generally every call is from an unhappy client. I have also been told that the worst calls to handle are from people calling to advise of loss of husband or partner. Operators must be able to emphasise with these clients and guide them through a setting in which the client is unhappy, disoriented and so sad. Could you do it time and again and every day ?

    No I am not a Centrelink employee and no I have never been one but I do know a thing or two about their work and the standards set for them by Management. Just be patient and give them a go!
    Anonymous
    15th Jun 2017
    6:40am
    Can't agree, Dougie. The mistakes I've seen by inept and uncaring Centrelink employees horrify, and nobody gave a damn when they were reported. Many simply reinforced wrong rulings. The employees concerned were not in any way counselled or corrected.

    There are some excellent Centrelink employees, but it's the luck of the draw, sadly. There are no standards and there is no reasonable regulation to ensure they do their job correctly. In their defence, I agree that it's a hideously challenging job, and I'm not sure I could do it. But that doesn't excuse blatant negligence and lack of even the smallest degree of empathy for someone in genuinely difficult circumstances.
    MICK
    13th Jun 2017
    11:42am
    Welcome to dealing with both a government department and an extremely complicated welfare system.
    I can't wait for a living wage to arrive so that this cancer is cut out of our way of life.
    Ted
    13th Jun 2017
    11:50am
    Certainly having all retirees paid a pension, as in the UK, would free up extra staff who could be deployed to help other areas within the Centrelink system.

    Equally helpful would be having the call centres having some staff who can handle the more complex enquiries rather than shunting callers off to other areas.

    Sure, it is a demanding job in the call centres but it seems service has slipped since 2012, all thst most people would want is to bring it back to that level of service. The 'efficiency dividend' it seems makes for more inefficiency!
    Ted Wards
    13th Jun 2017
    11:54am
    Well this begs the question then. Why are tax payers support yet another inept and costly government system that doesnt work?
    KSS
    13th Jun 2017
    12:22pm
    dougie is quite right when he talks about client expectations.In this 'all about me' era, some people seem to think that there should be a single person on the other end of the phone who has nothing to do but sit and wait for them to call; and if and when they do call the person should be able to answer all enquiries perfectly and immediately (in the caller's favour of course).

    Whilst there is always room for improvement in any service sector (and Centrelink is a service sector) managing customer expectation is critical to customer satisfaction. The analogy of a restaurant and its service is fair enough. Trouble is, most Centrelink clients have champagne tastes and a beer budget!
    Crazy Horse
    13th Jun 2017
    1:00pm
    The main problems with Centrelink can be traced with the demonisation of welfare recipients and deliberate understaffing by this mean nasty Liberal Government for political purpose.

    My experience has been that most Centrelink staff are very good. The problems are getting to talk to somebody and the draconian guidelines the Govetnment forces them to administrate.

    It's not going to get better whist Christian Porter, Michaela Cash and Alan Tudge are involved.
    GeorgeM
    14th Jun 2017
    1:56pm
    Agree with your comments, CH.
    They just wasted another $150,000 of taxpayer money on useless consultants whose stupid advice is to change the targets to justify their inefficiency! They could have asked us - advice for free!

    As I have said before, it would be much simpler, avoid complexities, reduce Centrelink costs / staff time, and be fair to all if they simply paid Aged Pensions to all who have paid taxes here for say 20 years (including husband / wife as contributors), and tax all income above that, with NO Assets or Income Tests. Then they only need to assess the rest who don't automatically qualify this way.
    sunnyOz
    13th Jun 2017
    1:20pm
    Simple answer? - NO Millions of phone calls not answered, never get the same answer to the same question - that's if you can even get the opportunity to ask the question. Try living in rural outback - sure there is a ruling somewhere that Centrelink staff MUST make it as hard as possible for people to deal with Centrelink. Hopeless, broken, useless and staff - though some good - generally couldn't care less.
    kevinc
    13th Jun 2017
    2:22pm
    I have never heard of a business making more clients happier by lowering their service levels.
    Think about it, that's insane. surely you would look at how to improve levels, its not rocket science , given a smart CEO . yes, its a huge business, and sacking half your staff, wont help.
    We bend over backwards to provide updated information, but still receive threating letters, and when we request information by phone or letter its not followed through.
    niemakawa
    13th Jun 2017
    3:21pm
    Yes and Centrelink stress that you must inform them within 14 days of any change in circumstances. Centrelink needs to respond must faster and complete the updates within 5-10 days of receipt of updated information. Unknowingly a person can be hit with a "debt" later down the track once Centrelink has finally done its job. Had an experience where I updated on-line and once submitted the system spouted out a message "No further updätes can be made until the assessment has been completed".
    niemakawa
    13th Jun 2017
    3:22pm
    As I have said many many times before on these forums, age pensions for all, regardless of income/assets.
    Old Dog
    13th Jun 2017
    4:08pm
    I had to go to a Centrelink Office today, to lodge a Medicare claim. What a miserable place! Who would want to work there? A security guard, a television screen, a podium where one staff member fielded questions and collected forms, a number of desks with harried-looking staff conducting interviews and a room full of "clients", waiting. If our politicians had to work under those conditions, what a change there would be! And if they had to line up under those conditions to justify their pensions, well.....
    Nan Norma
    13th Jun 2017
    4:52pm
    I think the problem is that Centrelink has too many areas of welfare and pensions making it a minefield. To many different payments have been introduced over the past few years making it very complex. Even the staff struggle to understand all the rules and regulations, especially when they are moved around so much.On top of that the government keeps changing the rules. Then of course they cut down on staff.
    niemakawa
    13th Jun 2017
    4:57pm
    I agree. Look what successive Governments have done to Super. who in their right mind has any confidence in saving for their retirement through a system that is continoulsy changing and usually so Governments can extract more cash from us. The day of reckoning for Pollies can't be too far way.

    13th Jun 2017
    5:10pm
    Been here before Leon, the answer is simple. Put on more frontline staff and more telephone lines with people to staff them. As the welfare/pension system is complicated, create specialist areas to answer those queries that are outside the norm. Governments of all colours have cut the public service to pretend they are saving money but the cuts have been both too savage and in the wrong areas. Does the PM need all of the advisers that are paid big bucks to tell him things which he chooses to ignore?
    JAID
    14th Jun 2017
    10:23pm
    If the form of cover and delivery is to remain as is, there is no point in having people waiting for what must be a fairly predictable flow of queries and approaches. In that case your approach is the only way to go Old Man.

    Before that though we should attempt to find modes of delivery that minimise complication and that should be the goal with all programmes provided at public expense. It may not be possible to plan services, provisions and data flows so that no queries or mishaps occur and so that approvals orders data and much checking can be automated but we should be able to get a bloody lot closer than we presently are.

    As we improve the efficiency of our design of these things we can lower staffing but it makes no sense before that time. We are dealing with lives here, the lives of the owners of this society. Every moment lost in waiting, in being improperly funded and in doing work that would be unnecessary is precious time when we are not doing what we strive to be free to do.
    Charlie
    13th Jun 2017
    7:04pm
    If anyone tried to run a business on the standards of Centrelink they would go broke. Its just that Centrelink has an automatic supply of customers and nobody has the option of shopping down the road.

    Regardless of how hard they work, when a organization gives the impression that they avoid putting in an effort, everybody will think poorly of them. The thing that annoyed me about them the most, is that they would hide behind a security scare to avoid communicating by email.
    The security risk of a sending a message by email is determined by the contents of the message and it should not exclude basic communication such as making appointment dates or making times to communicate by telephone. The public are treated like they are a disorganized mob of bums

    Of course the peasants don't have email do they. They have to wait in an office that provides no public toilets until their name is called.
    Oldman Roo
    13th Jun 2017
    7:39pm
    No question in my mind , the LNP strategy is to make dealing with Centrelink very trying , close to impossible and deterrent to welfare recipients . No disrespect to their employees because the impossible can not be achieved under Government constraints .
    THe LNP has no time for the less fortunate in life except at election time but the tune changes soon after the election .
    I hate to think just what their future plans are for those dependent on welfare and I am already hoping that when I am running completely out of savings , they may have a pill available that will let me leave their world with dignity .
    Pamiea
    13th Jun 2017
    8:20pm
    Simple. Put on more staff and train them
    quietguy
    15th Jun 2017
    11:06am
    Spoke to my Grandaughter yesterday - she has been told that her benefit will cease this Saturday. So, she called in to the local Centreink Office to discuss the issue, but was informed that they could not help as she had to deal with this by phone. Yeh, right. On Wednesday she tried to ring - 70 times, yes SEVENTY TIMES she rang but could not get through. With the worry of not being able to pay her rent next week this is simply not acceptable. All she can do is to visit the office again, and ?????
    ex PS
    15th Jun 2017
    5:28pm
    Apparently the Public Service no longer has to provide a service. Maybe they should change the name.

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