Fife Council contact staff praised as they handle 430,000 queries during lockdown
Fife Council staff have been praised for continuing to maintain customer service standards during the coronavirus pandemic.
Newly published figures show that between April 2020 and March 2021, contact centre workers answered calls quicker than in the previous three years despite working from home, fielding nearly 430,000 enquiries in total.
On average, 57.5% of calls were answered within 20 seconds - the highest level of speedy pick-ups since 2016/17.
Fife's call centre operators were spinning several plates during this time: operating the Covid Community Helpline to arrange access to food, medicine, dog walking and transportation; contact tracing; social work calls; and normal council services such as housing and roads.
Diarmuid Cotter, head of customer services at Fife Council said: "Staff had to become logistics experts, help with business grants - it's absolutely incredible what the stuff have done.
"I've been quite proud of how it turned out."
Covid-19 has also seen Fifers use social media, live chat and email more than ever to get their council issues sorted.
During the first quarter of 2020/21 between April and June, when non-essential phone lines were closed, a third of all queries were dealt with online rather than by phone. That has dropped to around a quarter - which is still twice pre-pandemic levels.
Many requests are now dealt with exclusively online following the relaunch of the Fife Council website in 2019 to make it work better on mobile devices and tablets.
The council has tried to encourage people to use the website for more and more enquiries to save them time - but has been criticised for its use of the Scottish Government's "myaccount" service for minor issues such as reporting potholes, and for running the risk of excluding people with visual impairments who are unable to use the web.
Cllr John Docherty, SNP East Neuk and Landward rep, said: "It's important we keep progressing well with digital but we've also always got to consider the fact that someone with a visual impairment can't access the internet [in the same way].
"People may have physical issues and there should still be a phone number for anything they need."
In response to feedback about the myaccount system, which allows locals to manage council tax and make requests to the council online, web bosses have made signing in optional when reporting issues such as road and lighting faults.
This has been welcomed by Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay Conservative councillor Dave Dempsey, who said the use of the myaccount system while well-intended had come across as overbearing.
"This is a welcome simplification, though even without the need to log in the process is still longer and more elaborate than it used to be," he said.
"The real advance will come when it’s possible to view online the progress with repairing road faults, as already exists for street lighting faults."
About 89,000 people are using the myaccount system to manage council tax and school payments online.
However, Mr Cotter says there's no danger of phone lines being cut off anytime soon - as there are some things that are still done best over the phone, or even face-to-face.
He said: "We will always have face-to-face access for more intense stuff, because some things aren't suited to online or over the phone."