DURBAN - It took 28 minutes to speak to an eThekwini Municipality employee at the Electricity Contact Centre as their automated recording said: “We are experiencing high call volumes. Your call will be answered as soon as an agent is available.”

However, it is not just the Electricity Contact Centre (080 131 3111) that took a very long time to answer its phones, but other municipal departments - its switchboard (031 311 1111) and the eThekwini Call Centre for Metro Billing (031 324 5000) too.

The Daily News called the municipal switchboard and the line went dead after ringing for three minutes. A call to the eThekwini Call Centre was answered after nine minutes.

Daily News readers have regularly complained through BackChat that they could not get throughwhenever they called the municipality; their calls were answered after 15 to 20 minutes; or they spent 20 minutes listening to an automated recording.

Rajen Gyapersad, of Bellair, called the municipality a few months ago because he was having trouble with the street lights and the e-mailing of his monthly billing since he did not receive it via post.

“I held on the line for at least 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “The line would either cut off or no one would pick up.”

Gyapersad said the municipality never solved the problem and he was forced to use a private company.

Another BackChatter, who asked to remain anonymous, said he called 080 131 3013 when there was a stink in Woodview, north of Durban.

“It took at least 15 minutes for them to answer the phone. Even then, the phone would go dead after I selected the first option,” said anonymous.

Anonymous said calling the municipality was draining, but the stink was sorted out eventually.

Aaron Harry, of Clare Estate, said he called the municipality when there was a power failure in the area.

The phone call annoyed him so much that he recited the recording he had to listen to for more than 20 minutes when the Daily News interviewed him.

“Our call centre is busy,” recalled Harry. “I spent over 20 minutes listening to a recording. It was a recording of areas that were affected by the power failure.”

Harry said the power failure was eventually sorted out but people were always complaining about the municipality even though it had said it was re-engineering the call centre.

“The eThekwini Municipality is the heart of communication between the city and the residents, so how can we speak to a machine?” Harry questioned. “Their service delivery sucks.”

In response to complaints, Tozi Mthethwa, the eThekwini head of communications, said that as part of improving service delivery to its residents, the municipality regularly conducted impromptu customer service checks by calling into its own call centres.

“As a caring city, eThekwini Municipality has a dedicated team of staff members who strive to provide superior service to all city residents. Service delivery remains our key priority,” said Mthethwa.

She said the municipality was investigating why it took so long for an employee to answer a call, but also urged customers to be patient because the contact centres had been experiencing extremely high call volumes after the recent inclement weather, as well as residents querying their accounts.

“Our call volumes and dura-tions fluctuate in a pattern that is unpredictable and unanticipated. The public is urged to note that we have begun putting comprehensive plans in place to provide a better and more efficient service in times like these,” explained Mthethwa.

For Harry, who spent more than 20 minutes listening to a recording, Mthethwa said the municipality used recordings when it was aware of an issue that affected a vast number of areas.

She further explained that the recordings were caller-friendly and made it easy for the caller to be directed to the correct office or consultant who could better help them.

One of the issues that arise from calling the municipality for help is call charges. However, Mthethwa said, “Our call agents are highly trained. In instances where a call might take long, or in case of an emergency, residents are allowed to immediately inform the agent and ask for a call-back.”

Mthethwa said the municipality was unaware that calls were sometimes cut off, but said it was grateful that this had been brought to their attention and it would investigate the technical issue.

“The municipality, in keeping with the Batho Pele principles and in an effort to improve and optimise customer service delivery, is in the process of integrating the call centres for the municipality into a centralised system with a single number that customers can dial for any service-related query,” said Mthethwa.

“The city is committed to continuously improving service delivery and customer satisfaction.

“As a result, the integration of (the) current 10 call centres with staff trained to respond to any query will be rolled out in a phased process in order to ensure the system is fully effective once implemented.

“The first phase is expected to go live early next year and will include the revenue, switchboard, water and electricity services on a toll-free number.

“Together with this, the various service delivery units that will form part of the integrated system are revising the customer care policy, especially service centre standards,” continued Mthethwa.

Daily News