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3.3 Phone services

Customers can contact the department through its telephone services, delivered through the department’s Smart Centres, which form an Australia‑wide network.

In 2018–19, the department improved its Centrelink telephony services. We optimised telephony technology and processes and increased the number of staff taking calls, resulting in a reduction in busy signals of 45 per cent compared with the previous financial year.

The Telephony Optimisation Programme, which was progressed during 2018–19, has given customers improved access to voice biometric technology, which allows customer identity verification using ‘voiceprints’. The use of voiceprint technology improves record security and enhances customer experience when speaking with staff or using self service telephony applications.

Through the Telephony Optimisation Programme, the department has adopted industry best‑practice standards for assessing overall customer satisfaction with the telephone services they have received. It has also assisted in better meeting customer demand through improved forecasting.

In 2018–19, the department’s Smart Centres handled more than 50 million calls.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support phone services

Some Smart Centres deliver Centrelink, Medicare, and Child Support telephony and processing services. These staff resolve enquiries at the first point of contact whenever possible. Staff also make sure that customers know about, and can use, the department’s self service options, including Express Plus mobile apps and online services. Many customers prefer to use these as a convenient alternative to phone services.

Telephony and processing services are delivered from many locations around Australia and form a virtual network. The department ensures that its staff are skilled in multiple areas and can be deployed based on demand.

Phone services staff also respond to emergencies—for example in 2018–19, the Tasmanian bushfires and Far North Queensland floods—by taking phone calls and processing claims for disaster relief payments for those affected.

The department traditionally experiences seasonal peak periods of demand from January to March, and June to September each year, when an increased workload is generated by:

  • families’ income estimates
  • families’ balancing of family assistance payments
  • updates to child care information
  • student eligibility assessments for new and changed enrolments for the new academic year and second semester
  • enquiries about Centrelink payments and Centrelink payment summaries
  • Child Support enquiries about assessments for newly separated parents and assessments as a result of tax lodgements.

Multilingual phone services

The department provides phone services to people in several languages other than English. Bilingual service officers can finalise most of a person’s business in a single phone call either directly or with support from interpreters.

In 2018–19, service officers on the multilingual lines answered more than 582,000 calls.

Rural phone services

Some Smart Centres provide a rural phone service that is designed specifically to meet the needs of people living in rural and remote communities. Service officers draw on their knowledge of rural issues and help to alleviate the effects of geographic isolation and changing circumstances, such as drought or flood, for farmers and their families.

In 2018–19, more than 119,000 calls were answered through rural phone services, including more than 45,000 drought assistance calls.

Remote phone services

Remote Smart Centres deliver phone services to Indigenous Australians, including advice about Indigenous specific payments. Service officers respond to calls from Indigenous people as well as from Agents acting on their behalf in remote areas.

In 2018–19, the department’s remote phone services answered more than 2.4 million calls about Indigenous issues and Income Management.

Child Support phone services

The department delivers most of its Child Support services to separated parents over the phone, in many cases finalising processing in real time. Almost half of the calls with separated parents are through outbound contact to ensure accuracy of assessment and timely payment and transfer of Child Support. In 2018–19:

  • we received over 1.7 million calls about Child Support from separated parents
  • we made over 1.6 million outbound calls to separated parents.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support telephony service targets

The Portfolio Budget Statements 2018–19 set average speed of answer targets for each of the programs. The average length of time a person waited for their call to be answered in 2018–19 was:

  • 15 minutes and 32 seconds for social security and welfare services against a target of ≤16 minutes
  • 28 seconds for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) authorities and eHealth providers against a target of ≤30 seconds
  • one minute and 54 seconds for health services (provider) against a target of ≤ two minutes
  • six minutes and 59 seconds for health services (recipient) against a target of ≤ seven minutes
  • 12 minutes and 45 seconds for Child Support services against a target of ≤ three minutes.

Health and other phone services

The department provides telephone services to members of the public and health providers for Medicare, the PBS, aged care and a range of other health programs. The department also has specific phone services for health professionals, aged care organisations and small businesses.

In 2018–19, more than 13.6 million telephone calls were handled and 632.7 million Medicare and PBS claim services were processed.