woensdag 9 maart 2005

Australian Call Center Service

Being a Non-Australian Citizen, I took over a business in Nimbin. I contacted the Taxation Office to apply for a Tax File Number and an ABN number. It would be illegal to run a business without a TFN and an ABN. And many suppliers don't want to deal with a business without an ABN.

The Taxation Office has one access number, so you always have to queue. "All our operators are busy; please hold". After some time – if you have enough patience - you will be connected with an operator, arbitrary settled in Perth or Adelaide or Sydney ….. , always operating anonimously. Generally these operators are very friendly and polite. Obviously they have been trained very well in customer treatment; unfortunately not in knowledge of taxation matters. In stead of knowledge they are using a computer system. Likely the operators can answer 90% of the incoming calls correct. But what happens with the other 10%? Are they not answered? No, the operators will make all efforts to keep the customers satisfied, and so they will answer the questions ……. of course incorrect. This can result in hilarious situations.

When there was no progress after 20 telephone calls, I lodged a complaint. The friendly girl wrote down my complaint, told me a reference number, and explained that I would receive a response within 48 hours. Three days later I called to ask about the progress. I told the nice boy my reference number: it was unknown! So I lodged a complaint about the follow up of my first complaint. I received a reference number again, and I would hear within 48 hours. Of course I never got any response on both complaints.

Then I asked a friendly operator to make an appointment with an officer in person at the Taxation Office in Brisbane, to discuss how to apply for a TFN and an ABN. The operator told me that it was not possible to make such an appointment, because I was not eligbile to apply for a TFN and an ABN! Only when I told him that I would go there anyway, and throw a stone through the door to get in, he agreed to make an appointment: next Tuesday at 2 pm sharp at counter number 3. On Tuesday I entered the office at Adelaide Street. A lady welcomed me. I told her about my appointment at 2 pm sharp at counter3. She said that it was impossible, "we don't have counters, and we don't make appointments. Everybody can walk in at any time. Cup of coffee?" 5 Minutes later the special application form (!) for non-Australian owners of an Australian business had been filled in, and I left the building with a lot of useful booklets, that – to her understanding – should have been sent to me immediately after my first call.

Are the call center operators to blame? Not at all. It is a classical misunderstanding that the front office has to be staffed by the less experienced, less trained employees. The result is that all unusual cases are processed wrong, and that they reach the senior officers in the back office with a lot of delay (or never). If the phone would be answered by seniors with knowledge these unusal cases would be adressed right immediately, and the juniors could work on these cases (and on their own education at the same time) in the silence of the back office.

The Taxation Office is just one example of this misunderstanding. It seems to me that all Australian gouvernemental organizations and lots of Australian businesses are using this procedure. The call center operators of the Department of Immigration must have the hardest job: they are trained to be friendly and polite; but this does not agree with the policy of their employer.

(Nimbin Good Times, maart 2005)