Federal Government project director Aaron Ralph knew he had to make better use of the Internet and other communication channels when the department's Sydney office had to shut its doors at 12 noon each day to lock out thousands of clients inundating staff resources.
This was the critical situation two years ago before implementing a contact centre model and being appointed client access strategy taskforce director for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).
Ralph said the deadline for student visas annually is March 15; from March 10 onwards the Sydney office had to process 60,000 students who could experience waiting times of up to eight hours to see a member of staff.
"[Staff] were literally locking the doors at lunchtime to keep people out. Now these visas are done on the Internet and the problem has been resolved; we keep face-to-face contact to a minimum," he said.
DIMIA is currently upgrading its client services delivery model including the establishment of two call centres, which will be operational by April 2003.
The upgrading process has been ongoing since 1998 when NEC won sole supplier status of telephony services to DIMIA under the Cluster 3 outsourcing agreement.
Moreover, an independent review was undertaken in March this year to make better use of its three contact channels -- the Internet, phone and face-to-face contact.
"Our preference is to direct clients to the phone and the Internet, because face to face is too expensive; however, office interviews are still important because visa processing is a very complex process," Ralph said.
The department has 14 offices in Australia; before 1998 it had 13 answer points for eight switchboards, a lack of data on call volume and was unable to measure costs.
Ralph said there was great inconsistency between offices. For example, he said, one office would have six people on the phone for 100 calls a day and there was a five-second waiting time while another office would have one person for 200 calls a day and a waiting time of up to two hours.
"Then there were some offices that would just let the phone ring because [staff] just didn't want to answer it," Ralph said.
The process was centralised and Ralph said infrastructure was installed in Sydney and Melbourne to service offices nationally.
"We got rid of switchboard numbers and actually started to get statistics on service delivery and call volumes. We can now measure volume growth which has jumped from 1.2 million in the 1999/2000 financial year to an expected 2.2 million this financial year," Ralph said.
While the Internet has proven to be a great information tool and ideal for organisations like DIMIA, users are still not undertaking financial transactions on the Net.
According to sales and marketing general manager Alan Alcock of speech recognition provider VeCommerce, users browse on the Web but actually buy on the phone.
At the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Alcock said, only 6.2 per cent of customers undertake financial transactions on the Internet; only 1.6 per cent of IAG customers renew insurance on the net.
"The Internet is a good source of information; but online shopping, bill paying and financial transactions are still very low," he said.