Speed-dialing agency call centers

As agencies continue to downsize, the need for more efficient and customer-friendly

call centers is growing.

The Labor Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service

have tapped industry to create call centers that can respond in less than

20 seconds to a customer's question, said John Kathman, the director of

call center operations for Datatrac Information Services.

Datatrac handles about 15 million calls a year for the Labor and INS

call centers.

By quickly routing calls and linking to agency databases, representatives

can access information to help people find office locations, fill out forms,

file documentation and get in touch with a person in a requested department,

such as an agent who specializes in approving green-card applications, Kathman

said.

At Labor, customer service representatives, trained by Datatrac, respond

to queries on matters ranging from where to find federal assistance after

being laid off to filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.

A Datatrac supervisor monitors customer service representative calls,

and representatives are given constructive criticism. "Even the difficult

callers are calling for a reason, and it is our job to make sure they get

the information they need," said Leslie LeCompte, who helped establish the

Labor and INS call centers.

Datatrac never records customer's personal information and serves simply

as a link between the customer and the appropriate agency department, LeCompte

said.

When INS implemented its system, many agency representatives were fearful

of losing their jobs, a spokesman said. "Instead, no one lost their jobs,

and agency employees were able to switch their focus to the problems that

needed their attention," he said.

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