The Centrelink call centre

Centrelink call centre

The Centrelink call centre disaster

View the latest data on wait times for Centrelink >

Have you ever had to ring the Centrelink call centre?

With the sudden escalation of the COVID19 crisis, it seems like just about everyone in Australia is currently trying!

Given Centrelink have struggled at the best of times to answer the phone in a reasonable time (refer below) it was no surprise that the call centre and the popular MyGov website (I’m really joking about it being popular) crashed under the weight of increased demand.

Wait times in the call centre have been bad, like really bad (reports of 3 hours) and that’s, of course, if you are ‘lucky’ enough to even get through.

The Centrelink workforce is to be boosted by 5,000 people, opening hours have now been extended in the call centre and the MyGov website has been given a quick upgrade to now handle more concurrent users so hopefully, we’ll notice some improvements soon.

But in all honesty, it’s going to take a fair amount of time to find 5,000 people wanting to work there and to get them fully trained so don’t hold your breath waiting for too long!

Whilst it can get frustrating being on hold for endless hours (there is some call centre technology available that can let customers hang up and hold their position in the queue in case anyone in the government is reading this…) please remember not to take out your frustration on the call centre agent.

It’s never fun taking call after call from frustrated customers all day so just remember to stay calm, be nice and try and have all the information you can available at your fingers and I’m sure the call centre agent will appreciate it and do the best they can for you in return.

Every second spent complaining about the wait times just makes it longer for the next person to get through and trust me, there is nothing an individual call centre agent can do about it anyway.

Oh, and just so you know, the Centrelink call centre isn’t actually one physical call centre.

It’s made up of multiple call centres in different locations across Australia and is split between government employees and external call centre agents employed by four call centre outsourcing companies.

The history of getting it wrong in the Centrelink call centre 

Despite practically everyone in the country either personally or through a close friend/colleague having a horrendous experience in trying to call Centrelink, we regularly hear the Government refer to statistics that seem to be very different from what the majority of Australians experience.

In a Senate Estimates committee on 2 March 2017, we may have finally got to the bottom of why they were reporting surprisingly short average wait times.

To save you a lot of reading, here’s how the Centrelink call centre manipulated their stats which deliberately mislead the real customer experience:

  • “A transfer to a new line becomes a new inquiry, and as such, the clock would start again,” deputy secretary for service delivery Barry Jackson told the senators. “It essentially is counted as becoming a new call into the system.”
  • If a person spends a long time listening to the hold music but has to hang up before they get anywhere — or if the agency hangs up on them — the call is recorded as abandoned, and the time spent waiting does not contribute to the average either.

Did things get better in 2018?

Not really.

  • Between 1 July 2017 and 31 March 2018, 36.3 million calls had been met with a busy signal, down from 37.4 million calls in the same time period 12 months earlier. That’s still terrible.
  • Even when you do get through, of the 23.379 million calls that were answered (or handled by a robot), 4 million callers still hung up in frustration after waiting too long.
  • Average wait time on calls had increased between March 2017 and March this year, from 15 minutes and 44 seconds up to 15 minutes and 56 seconds.
  • It’s not just calls either – processing times for payment applications have also gone up with it taking 49 days on average for an age pension application to be approved and 47 days for a carers payment up from 36 and 28 days respectively in 2016-2017.

Did the Centrelink Call Centre improve in 2020?

There was certainly high expectations.

The new Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation, The Hon Michael Keenan MP, was appointed in August 2018 although if recent politics is anything to go by, we’ll probably have a new one in a few more months (update: we were right, he was moved to the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services in June 2019. The honour went to Minister Stuart Robert who has now also been replaced in 2021)

Centrelink paid American Call Centre Consultant Brad Cleveland $430,000 to provide a series of recommendations were reportedly being implemented.

Don’t get me wrong, Brad is a smart and knowledgeable guy with a great reputation (and a good presenter) but it’s pretty sad our own Austrlian Government couldn’t engage some local consultants and support our own industry.

The Australian Government also threw a bunch of extra funding to call centre outsourcers to keep adding more staff to the call centres.

That certainly went some way to help handle the additional volumes and was a boost for the outsourcers involved.

For the customer though, there were still reports many were having a terrible experience trying to connect with Centrelink.

But you’ve also got to feel for the contact centre staff who wore the brunt of the customer’s fury all day every day.

OK surely in 2021 the Centrelink call centre is working efficiently?

We seriously need a team of full-time writers to keep up with who is responsible in the Government for Services Australia!

As of March 2021, the Minister for Government Services (which covers Services Australia) is Linda Reynolds.

In response to the unprecedented demand experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Services Australia claim they made critical improvements to simplify processes and increase the capabilities of their online services.

As a result, myGov was significantly enhanced so it now has the largest capacity of any authenticated online platform in Australia, and call wait times are reportedly at an all-time low.

Last financial year, Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen claims the average call wait time across Services Australia’s phone lines reached a record low of under 5 minutes.

What has been your experience?

Need to contact the Centrelink Call Centre?

There are lots of different contact numbers for Centrelink depending on the service you need. Visit this page on their website for a list of all Centrelink phone numbers along with their opening hours.

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About Justin Tippett 74 Articles

Justin is one of the leading authorities on Contact Centres and Customer Experience in Australia and is the founder of CX Central and the recently launched Australian Customer Experience Professionals Association (ACXPA)

There's also a vicious rumour he's the person responsible for all the memes on the Call Centre Legends page now followed by over 20k people ;)

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1 Comment

  1. “A transfer to a new line becomes a new inquiry, and as such, the clock would start again,” – this is standard. ACD reporting suites measure time a call is in a queue – they do not track the entire journey one caller may go through. The customer calls and enters a queue – the system times how long they stay there until the call is answered (or abandoned). If the call is transferred to another queue then yes, the clock would start again. This is not fudging the numbers (or if it is, pretty much every contact centre is guilty of the same). Rather the question that might need to be answered is why a large number of calls need to be transferred.

    ” the call is recorded as abandoned, and the time spent waiting does not contribute to the average either” – again this is normal. The stat is Average time to answer – and so the time spent waiting by calls that are answered is divided by the number of calls answered. The system would no doubt also produce an average time to abandon figure.

    Neither of these situations is manipulating data – it is reporting data in the same way it is produced by every call centre I have seen (which is a lot).

    As for engaged signals and abandoned calls – yes these numbers sound very high, but we need to know CentreLink’s total call volume for some context.

    Now I am not a shill for CentreLink – I have heard all sorts of horror stories from friends and family who need to call them – and when they are ready to fix the problems, my firm Optima WFM can certainly help.

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