Meeting of September 8, 2003, Washington D.C. on Repositioning for New Realities: Securing EEOC's Continued Effectiveness
Good Afternoon, Madam Chair, Madam Vice Chair, Commissioner Miller, Commissioner Silverman, colleagues and guests. My name is Cynthia Pierre and I am now two weeks into the position of Director of Field Management Programs in the Office of Field Programs. For five years prior to that I was Director of the Birmingham District Office. I am very pleased today to present the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the National Contact Center Work Group.
On January 21st of this year I was selected to head a work group to investigate the feasibility and desirability of establishing a national call center for EEOC. The full work group, consisted of field and headquarters representatives including two district directors, the OIT director, a deputy district director, a regional attorney, an enforcement manager and intake supervisor, an administrative judge, and representatives from the Offices of Federal Operations and Field Programs. Technical advisors to the group were provided by the Office of General Counsel, the Office of Legal Counsel, the Office of Information Technology, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Administrative Services, and the Office of Human Resources. Finally, expert support was provided by the Research and Analytic Services Division of the Office of General Counsel. We began our work on February 3, 2003 and submitted our draft report to the Chair on June 20, 2003.
Although we initially focused on government call centers, the work group soon expanded its review to include multi-channel contact center operations which handle not only telephone calls, but also e-mail, postal mail, facsimiles, and fulfillment of requests for printed materials. We also coordinated and exchanged information with another agency work group that is developing an on-line assessment tool and questionnaire for people who believe they may have been discriminated against.
This report, we believe, lays out a compelling case for change by discussing the key elements of the business case. In my presentation today, I am going to focus on the first three elements: (1) Where We are Now, (2) A Vision of Where We Want to Go, and (3) How we are going to get there-- Why a National Contact Center is the Best Solution to Get Us There. Other elements of the business case are discussed more fully in the report including impact on our internal stakeholders, allocation of roles, responsibilities, and resources, and how the process would be managed.
Before I discuss these major points, I want to talk a bit about the methodology of the group. We researched current call center practices by reviewing relevant industry literature and arranging presentations by representatives from four federal agencies with call center operations: the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which has in- house technology and contract staff; the Department of Labor and General Services Administration, both of which have totally outsourced centers; and the Social Security Administration, which has a totally in-house operation. The work group surveyed the field to determine EEOC's current business process with respect to handling of unsolicited public contacts as well as an estimate of the current volume and type of calls received by the agency. We also held an informal market survey with call center vendors, receiving detailed presentations of vendor qualifications, capacity, and the range of contact center options. Finally, the work group made on-site visits to an outsourced federal call center and an in-house call center with contract staff.
In government, we tend to address problems by muddling along, tweaking at the edges.
The report discusses a number of potential solutions for the problem we are trying to address. The problem is summarized in Conclusion 1 of the full report which reads:
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 provides the rationale for the option recommended by the NCC work group:
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.
The work group made six specific recommendations.
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 from 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 conducts 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.
Now, what are the benefits and costs?
(1) better staff modeling; i.e., the ability to accurately forecast staffing needs based on call volume and service needs - paying only for what you need;
(2) better performance management; i.e., the ability to determine the appropriate measurements of service quality, gather and utilize the trend data for continuous improvement;
(3) efficient use of technology applications, including the web, automated attendant, and IVR, inter alia., to automate responses to routine inquiries and reduce staffing needs;
(4) improved process re-engineering - the business model for handling customer calls can be streamlined to produce quicker response times, less misinformation and higher customer satisfaction;
(5) resources for training targeted to development of soft and hard skills necessary for successful job performance; and
(6) an opportunity to partner with contact center specialists who are able to realize economies of scale, and use knowledge of industry best practices to improve quality, meet service demands, and be able to initiate operations quickly without the usual start- up costs. Typical transition and set up time is about 90 days from award of contract.
The final question, of course, is how much will this cost? We could not pinpoint the cost with any degree of accuracy because cost varies widely with amount and level of services purchased. Therefore, we concentrated on developing a draft statement of objectives for a performance-based acquisition which would allow the agency to get the best value for its dollar. We have costed out staff time currently spent answering calls at nearly $1.4 million dollars. Cost estimates from various sources have been as low as $1.1 million dollars for an outsourced center. Since we are recommending a competitive bidding process, I cannot say more without risking the integrity of that process.
This concludes my presentation. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would be happy to answer any questions.
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