The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Assessment of a National Contact Center Solution for EEOC
Executive Summary

August 2003

Purpose of the Report

The purpose of this report is to review the current status of EEOC's performance in handling calls from the public, including its management of human capital, and to recommend solutions to improve agency performance in this area. Pursuant to a request from the Chair, the National Contact Center (NCC) Work Group was convened in February 2003 and undertook a four-month study to determine the feasibility of and recommend options for implementing a cost-effective customer service center which would provide optimum service and quality information to the public in support of the agency's mission.

The work group researched the design, implementation and performance of public sector call centers and contact centers; surveyed field and Headquarters staff regarding the nature and volume of telephone calls and related customer service issues; and studied the requirements for performance-based services acquisition. Although initially focused on government call center operations, the work group expanded its review to include multi-channel contact center operations which handle telephone calls, e-mail, facsimiles, postal mail, and fulfillment of requests for printed materials.

This Executive Summary highlights the report's findings and recommendations, summarizes the compelling case for change made in the report, and recommends parameters for a contact center operation that would fulfill EEOC's desire to achieve a core customer service standard and competency that addresses 21st century needs.

Problems Identified With the Current Phone/Contact System

The EEOC receives more than one million unsolicited telephone contacts each year, 61% of which are requests for information unrelated to potential charges. Various office management systems, such as appointments, document logs and electronic logs, have been introduced to handle telephone calls and contacts with walk-in and mail customers. To date, however, no solution has been introduced that fully recognizes or utilizes 21st century technology to improve call handling practices at EEOC on an agency-wide basis. In many offices calls from the public have been received and processed in the same way for more than 30 years. Some offices offer auto attendant systems with menus of options that range from simple to complex. Furthermore, there is no uniform approach to answering calls from the public that guarantees promptness, accuracy, and courtesy.

As mentioned above, the work group designed a customer service questionnaire for field directors and a telephone call survey instrument to ascertain the nature and volume of unsolicited calls from the public received in the field and at two Headquarters offices. The results of these surveys are summarized below.

Why Address the Current Phone/Contact System

The President's Management Agenda requires agencies to become more customer-focused, to improve human capital management and to expand e-government services, among other things. The first impression a customer or stakeholder has of EEOC is often based on how the agency handles its telephone and other public contacts. Customer service quality also is directly tied to how accessible an agency is to its public. The EEOC is a small, chronically understaffed agency. In attempting to respond to the overwhelming numbers of public inquiries, EEOC offices must deploy numerous supervisors, investigators, attorneys, and clericals to answer telephones and/or return calls on a daily basis which takes away from time needed to resolve cases in a proficient manner and to perform outreach activities.

EEOC, at present, has no method for counting and tracking public contacts and, in particular, telephone contacts. EEOC also has no agency-wide quality assurance or accountability process to ensure the delivery of accurate and appropriate information to callers. Most important, EEOC lacks the technology and resources to manage public contacts efficiently and effectively. EEOC field offices have various types of telephone systems, some digital, some analog, some with automated attendants, some with voice messaging, some with only live answerers. Various scripts are used by the field offices on the automated attendant systems with varying levels of detail. Hours of service are more limited in some offices than in others. All told, the attempts to provide customer service represent a patchwork system that could be considerably improved by consolidation of the field office call center operations.

A national contact center operation would prepare regular reports on numbers of calls handled by the IVR and agents; topics covered; languages used; first call resolutions rates; average speed of answer, average talk times, accuracy of information recorded; accuracy of information provided; and customer satisfaction surveys. Daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual reports of this type would enable the agency to instantly retrieve information in response to congressional and other inquiries.

The National Academy of Public Administration Report (NAPA) report, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Organizing for the Future, documents that there are EEOC offices with backlogs of unreturned messages, offices in buildings with inadequate switching capacity, and offices with outdated telephone systems. At the other end of the spectrum, the report acknowledges that a few offices have automated and manual records of all incoming calls for management review. In fact, 19 of the field offices have phone systems with menu options while 32 do not. The overall impression of the agency is one of widely disparate capacity and performance among the field offices with respect to call handling practices.

A bold vision is necessary to bring about dramatic improvements in the agency's customer contact and customer service competency because the current processes are fundamentally inefficient and outmoded. For that reason, the work group sought to rethink the agency approach to handling customer contacts in order to achieve the greatest possible benefits to the agency and its customers. In order to achieve an "order of magnitude" improvement in customer contact services, it is necessary to go beyond the usual incremental functional and process improvements.

Goals for Process and System Improvements

Customer contact system improvements desired include: increased efficiency and courtesy in public interactions; increased public satisfaction with its interactions with EEOC; use of state-of-the-art technology to streamline and professionalize agency interactions with its customers and the public; better performance management; improved human capital management; improved quality assurance monitoring; and improved ability to forecast resource needs. The work group recommends the following specific objectives which it believes would best accomplish customer service improvements.

Improvement Options Considered

The work group researched a number of options to provide a solution for the agency's customer service and customer contact needs: competitive outsourcing of technology and staff for a national contact center; interagency agreements with federal agencies holding "umbrella contracts for contact centers"; EEOC in-house contact centers with contract staff; EEOC in-house contact centers with outsourced technology; and dispersed in-house mini-contact centers. As an alternative to a customer contact center, several field offices suggested that EEOC should simply upgrade its telephone system capabilities to allow callers the option of using an interactive voice response system (IVR) to obtain information or to direct-dial a specific individual. Other offices suggested adding auto attendant systems to their phones and allocating additional staff to perform the customer service function.

In considering these options, the work group weighed the costs and benefits associated with each as well as the potential for meeting the agency's desired objective to improve and increase customer interaction and customer satisfaction, and concluded the following. Partnering with other federal agencies may tie the EEOC to pricing schedules negotiated by other agencies and may prevent the EEOC from obtaining its own competitive contract. An in-house call center, whether staffed internally or by contract staff, requires heavy capital investment in telecommunications and technology, with a continuing need to upgrade. Operating an in-house contact center did not appear to be a cost-effective strategy for an agency with expectations of flat budgets in the near and medium-term. Implementation of an IVR system with the toll-free number, while a relatively low-cost option, would not allow for increased and improved customer interaction with personnel representing EEOC. Allocating additional staff to some offices and upgrading the telephone equipment in others does not present the universal solution needed to benefit the entire agency or even all the field offices in the goal to achieve higher performance levels for all and a customer-centric organization.

The final option considered was to recommend no changes in the current business process. However, it was not considered a desirable outcome that each of the 51 dispersed EEOC field offices and headquarters continue to operate separate mini-call centers with no integration or uniformity of process or procedures, that customer services remain uneven across the agency, or that high-graded EEOC staff continue to spend an inordinate amount of time answering or returning telephone calls which could be resolved in a more efficient and cost-effective manner through call center consolidation.

Why a National Contact Center is the Recommended Solution

The primary purpose of an EEOC national contact center would be to handle public contacts in an efficient and easily accessible manner. An EEOC national contact center would allow the agency to be accessed by anyone, in practically any language, for the length of service hours EEOC desires. It also would provide specially trained staff in one or two locations who can accurately answer questions or resolve issues in one call, the majority of the time. This would allow EEOC to realize a tremendous improvement in our customer service capacity and effectiveness. Specifically, a national contact center could relieve field offices of the burden of answering frequently asked questions, providing intake counseling, making referrals, fulfilling requests for publications, etc. Field offices could still receive calls directly from parties to charges, stakeholders, the media, technical assistance requesters, etc., however, the toll-free number for the national contact center would provide a central point for guaranteed immediate access to EEOC should a caller not be able to reach a local field office.

Contact centers have three integral components: (1) human resources (management personnel and agents who handle customer inquiries); (2) technology (desktop applications, knowledge-based software, etc.) to handle customer contacts including the routing, resolution, and fulfillment of a request at the appropriate level of expertise; and (3) call content (based on scripts and training provided by the client).

Furthermore, contact center staffs are trained in "soft skills" (how to be polite, and courteous, how to speak with people who are experiencing difficulty in their lives, how to handle emotional or angry callers) and "hard skills" (the laws, procedures, structures of client organizations, program-specific knowledge, client-specific software, and referral information).

Pilot Program

The work group recommends that EEOC undertake a national pilot program during which contact center agents would address most public inquiries including inquiries from callers seeking to file a charge. Callers seeking to file a charge can be referred to the EEOC web site for self-service or can be assisted by having an EEOC-developed electronic assessment tool and questionnaire administered over the telephone. If the caller meets the criteria for moving to the next step in the process, the contact center agent would complete an on-line questionnaire for the caller and submit it to the appropriate office for decisions on actual charge filing and processing. Other inquiries can be answered by contact center staff who have been intensively trained and supplied with scripts to respond to anticipated questions.

Based on its research, the work group recommends that the national contact center consist of a vendor-provided facility, technology, and staffing. The technology provided would include a single toll-free number and an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Inquiries coming into the center would be categorized into three tiers. Tier one inquiries would include frequently asked questions (FAQs) on EEOC laws, procedures, locations, hours of work, etc. Tier two inquiries would include those from persons seeking to file a charge. Tier three inquiries would comprise those of a complex or novel nature. Many basic inquiries and FAQs would be handled by the IVR system. Contract center staff would all handle all inquiries categorized as Tier one not covered by the IVR and all Tier two inquiries. Tier three inquiries would be transferred to EEOC staff for resolution. E-mail and facsimiles could be responded to within 24 hours.

Using a contact center vendor presents an opportunity for EEOC to partner with a private or public contractor which specializes in multi-channel contact center operations and customer service. The goal is to improve service quality and expand access to the public. Contact center vendors benefit from the ability to use economies of scale, retain a customer focus, and leverage its knowledge of appropriate technology such as automatic call distribution (ACD), computer telephony integration and staffing issues. EEOC would, however, own all data and records generated and it would benefit from the vendor's investment in state-of-the-art contact center technology. In addition, the multi-channel aspect means EEOC could easily expand contact center services in the future to include electronic mail, postal mail, and facsimile services, as the demand grows.


The investment in a national contact center would reap multiple benefits including the ability to have telephones answered immediately by live bodies on a nation-wide basis, rapid and accurate routing of potential charge inquiries to the appropriate field office for processing, the ability to spot trends and emerging issues to inform policy development, and the ability to fully meet the e-government expectations of the President's Management Agenda. Establishment of a national contact center would allow the agency to consolidate the twelve different national toll-free lines and to eliminate the publications center -- a contract currently costing $100,000 per year. In addition, the EEOC would save on telephone costs and staff time related to returning thousands of calls from the public currently being left as messages on auto attendant, voice mail, and manual message systems. A final benefit accrues when the agency realizes the return on investment of having its professional staff fully deployed in investigative and outreach activities, rather than answering the phones.

Challenges for Implementing a National Contact Center

The EEOC is currently undertaking a four-year restructuring process. It is acknowledged that the agency's creation of a national contact center to consolidate its customer service efforts is a change that has not been fully embraced by all of the agency's staff. While responses from at least half of the district offices reflected cautious support for a contact center, a number of districts reported no concerns or requested additional staff and/or upgraded telephone equipment to handle individual district inquiries.

Some staff have expressed fears that establishing a national contact center would lead to loss of jobs and a skyrocketing of charge receipts. This fear is typical in organizations contemplating moving to outsourced contact centers to improve service quality and efficiency. In one agency where a contact center was introduced, there were no jobs lost, in fact, the agency workload increased. Because of the inadequacies of the old processes and telecommunications equipment, the agency found it had been losing six calls for every call taken. Therefore, it is possible EEOC charge receipts may rise with the implementation of a national contact center. Should receipts go up, more staff would be needed rather than fewer. Starting up as a pilot phase, however, would enable quality assurance procedures to be put in place to monitor the impact on workload and allow the agency to better forecast staffing needs.

On the other hand, other agency staff expressed concern that potentially meritorious charges would be screened out due to the inexperience of contact center staff and that duplicate contacts to field offices and the contact center would occur. In fact, contact center staff would be fully trained in scripts and keyword prompts, the content of which would be provided by EEOC experts, prior to going live answering calls. Training of contact center staff is intensive and normally agents are able to "go live" after three to four weeks of training. Contact center staff would be regularly monitored by quality assurance staff and EEOC liaisons to ensure adequacy and accuracy of responses. A performance-based contract will ensure the vendor meets or exceeds desired service levels.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on the overall results of this study the work group makes the following conclusions and recommendations.

Conclusion 1. The agency's current system for handling unsolicited calls from the public is severely impaired by a lack of systems capacity, facility infrastructure and appropriate staffing. Also, accuracy, consistency, responsiveness, and professionalism are core competencies that must be developed in order to improve customer service. While certain offices manage to be responsive to the public, the overall picture of the agency is one of spotty achievement with no national customer service standard.

Conclusion 2. The national call center solution would benefit all offices rather than requiring choices to be made on which offices should be allocated additional staff and equipment in a given year. A national contact center would allow a quantum leap in performance, service quality, and appropriate deployment of staff. To instill public confidence and improve its image, EEOC needs to present a consistent, high-quality, professional face to the public.

Recommendation 1. EEOC should establish a national contact center to serve as a central point of access to handle all unsolicited public inquiries that currently are received by the 51 field offices. It is not recommended, at this juncture, to include calls received by the Office of Federal Operations or Field Management Programs in the national contact center.

Recommendation 2. The national contact center should be competitively outsourced to allow maximum opportunity to get the best value pricing for the call center start-up and operations. The EEOC should use the Statement of Objectives procurement process to expedite implementation.

Recommendation 3. The EEOC should start operations with a pilot phase for at least two years to allow for the collection of refined baseline data on performance metrics and costs during the first 12 months and vendor performance during the second twelve months. This pilot phase will allow pilot costs to be lower by being spread over two years. Also, it will allow time for sufficient information to be gathered before committing to a multi-year contract at a cost higher than necessary. The pilot should be national in scope in order to gather accurate and reliable baseline data on service demands and to evaluate vendor performance.

Recommendation 4. The services handled by the EEOC national contact center during a pilot phase should cover the spectrum of basic inquiries, frequently asked questions, information on laws and procedures, the EEO Report series, office hours, locations, staff directories, and case information, with caller authentication. The EEOC national contact center should respond to inquiries f rom potential charging parties and assist in the completion of on-line charge questionnaires, if appropriate. Other services to be phased into contact center operations include handling e-mail, facsimile, postal mail, and fulfillment of requests for publications and printed materials. The EEOC national contact center should not handle actual charge filing.

Recommendation 5. The EEOC Order 150.005, Protection of Privacy, issued December 5, 1991, which prohibits the use of electronic or mechanical devices to intercept or record telephone conversations of EEOC employees and members of the public who conduct business with the agency should be modified to allow for monitoring and/or recording of calls of contact center employees for quality assurance purposes.

Recommendation 6. The EEOC should develop internal and external marketing strategies to communicate the compelling business case for a national contact center to its staff, its customers and its stakeholders in order to solidify support for this initiative.

This page was last modified on September 14, 2004.

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