Privacy Act overloads computer system

An estimated 25 per cent surge in call centre traffic led to busy signals or long waits for users of the service. Brisbane-based Energex was forced to hire extra staff while advising customers with non-urgent enquiries to browse its Web site or send e-mail request to service representatives.

Enquiries generated by Queensland's hottest holiday weather this century made up the bulk of the overload.

However, calls related to privacy issues were responsible for a significant component of the extra traffic, officials said.

The Energex experience suggests privacy obligations may be the straw that breaks the camel's back for corporate call centres if other workload inputs reach critical levels.

As consumers respond to the new privacy laws, managers may have to rethink the resources dedicated to worst-case scenarios.

Energex is finding that privacy queries take more time to clear than simple bill enquiries, said Energex public affairs communications manager Deborah McGoldrick.

So the company, which serves 1.1 million customers in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Asia, was hit by longer individual calls as well as higher call volumes.

An in-house committee spent months preparing Energex for privacy changes before the legislation came into effect on December 21.

Its recent call centre congestion is doubly embarrassing for the Top 100 Australian utility, because the centre was voted Queensland's best 'contact centre' by the Australian Teleservices Association in 2001.

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