Understaffed local governments are having to balance growing demand from residents wanting instant responses with ongoing staff and skills shortages across the country. Nine out of 10 councils report being short on workers in key roles, while at the same time local government is under pressure to provide frontline responses for residents worried about everything from floods to COVID to pool fences. With turnover as high as 20 per cent in some areas, it’s prompted some councils to bring in customer specialists to improve service continuity and allow busy civil servants to get on with the work of local government.
As Australia seemingly lurches from one natural disaster to the next, local government is playing an increasingly important role on the frontline. Raging bushfires, once-in-a century floods, and a global pandemic have proven that local governments are essential to keeping communities safe, connected and engaged.
Public servants are often the first port of call for residents who are looking for help during a crisis. But while state and federal agencies assist communities during a disaster, council workers have an ongoing obligation to manage distressed communities in the period after the crisis ends.
At the height of the pandemic, Australians turned to their councils for a range of services they previously did not offer.
Once vaccinations became available, for example, councils directly supported residents to get vaccinated, promoting community immunisation clinics and providing public health information on their channels.
The pandemic has also changed the way people live. In a post-Covid world, people are less likely to spend hours in traffic or on public transport to and from work, and much more likely to work from home. Residents are now spending more time in their communities, interacting with local amenities and infrastructure.
It’s created a conundrum for local councils, with workers fielding questions from residents about flood levees, fire breaks and vaccination clinics, when their primary expertise is in waste management or town planning.
The increased demand for additional support from civil servants isn’t being satisfied by the current labour force, with nine out of 10 councils reporting a shortage in key roles, such as engineers, town planners and HR professionals.
Assisting emotional and often vulnerable customers is a technical skill, one that is not necessarily a key requirement for many local government roles. Delivering this quality customer care becomes a challenge for those facing high expectations and a heavy workload.
TSA Group Manager of Operations Georgina Mauger says outsourcing those customer service roles can provide a dedicated team of representatives specialised in managing those difficult conversations.
“We can tap into an experienced and dedicated pool of team members who really understand your organisation and operating environment,” Ms Mauger says.
“Our recruitment process focuses on hiring individuals who are empathetic, understanding, and resilient, ensuring the people who are receiving inbound enquiries are equipped to deal with the complexities.
“Our team members go through rigorous training to hone their customer service, conflict resolution and negotiation skills so that by the time they are answering your constituents’ enquiries, they are experts in their field.”
The work to deliver excellent customer service does not end when an team member becomes contact-ready. According to Ms Mauger, this is when the real work starts – for both TSA Group and its team members.
“We are responsible for hiring empathetic and resilient customer service team members, but we must also support them along the way,” she says.
“During the devastating east coast floods in 2022, we supported thousands of distressed general insurance customers.
“Our customer service team members helped people who had lost everything and some of them really struggled with the impacts on their own mental health.
“We ramped up employee support to ensure they had the mental capacity to deal with these difficult calls, while also giving them the time and space to look after themselves.”
Dealing with the peaks and troughs of activity during a disaster is the bread and butter of customer experience specialists. For TSA Group, this was crystallised at the outbreak of Covid-19 when supporting a national early childhood education provider.
“Overnight, our team went from enrolling and onboarding families to operating a crisis helpline,” Ms Mauger says.
“We very quickly ramped up support to ensure families had up-to-date and accurate information as circumstances were rapidly changing.
“We needed to be across all the different levels of Covid restrictions throughout Australia, with some LGAs (Local Government Areas) having total lockdowns and others remaining open.
“That ability to scale up support during a crisis is invaluable to organisations who don’t have the internal capacity to drop everything and focus solely on providing customer care.”
The staff shortage faced by local governments across the country also comes with high turnover, with an average 15 per cent in metro areas and 20 per cent in the regions. The inflexibility around a candidate’s location may be a barrier to filling those roles.
Outsourcing customer care breaks down geographic barriers. Ms Mauger says the flexibility of a contact centre role means that you can do it from almost anywhere.
“We are not limited by the location of our teams and we provide support to Aussies anywhere from Far North Queensland, to the Sydney CBD, and regional Western Australia,” she says.
“Our specialised teams are trained to provide a seamless, localised service so that customers can trust they are talking to someone who genuinely understands their context.”
Delivering excellent customer care is a skill that takes time, training and careful recruitment.
During a crisis, delivering empathetic and authentic customer service should be left to the professionals so that council workers can focus on their day-to-day responsibilities without adding unnecessary stress.
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.