Behind-the-scenes changes to Winnipeg's 311 call centre will be made over the next few weeks in an effort to reduce the amount of time callers spend on hold.

Calls about certain subjects will be automatically rerouted, a report to the city's executive policy committee says. In the case of calls about assessment or taxes, or animal services, they will go to specialists in those areas who work at the call centre, while requests for bus schedule information will go to the automated Telebus system.

The changes stem from a 2015 audit on the 311 service's performance, which recommended the call centre explore ways to increase efficiencies and to revisit the current performance target of answering 80 per cent of calls within 30 seconds, which the report says has only been achieved by the city on two occasions in the past six years.

Bus schedule inquiries main culprit

Currently, the most common calls 311 operators receive are bus schedule inquiries, with 474,101 such calls last year.

With an operating cost of about 73 cents per call-minute, and an average of four minutes per bus-related call, that amounts to $1.4 million in department resources to manage inquiries that should normally be dealt with through the automated Telebus system.

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Winnipeg 311 call centre manager Rica Mangahas will introduce new measures to reduce wait times. (CBC News)

"We want to add additional options in our interactive voice recording that would refer to, for those that have five-digit bus stop numbers, that would refer to Telebus, that would be a self-serve," said 311 call centre manager Rica Mangahas, who wrote the report.

This alone would reduce the bus-related call volume by approximately 12 per cent, or about 50,000 calls per year, Mangahas said.

Since inception in 2009, residents calling Winnipeg's centralized 311 service have increasingly waited longer to speak with a customer service representative. In 2010, the average time it took 311 operators to answer calls was one minute, 21 seconds; in 2015, that wait time grew to two minutes, 56 seconds.

With the recent addition of a call-back queue service, that delay is now close to five minutes, the report states.

The report notes that in 2014, 1.7 million people contacted the call centre, 90 per cent of them by phone. Calls are increasingly for more complex service requests, rather than simple inquiries that are resolved immediately over the phone.

More than 30 per cent of all calls are abandoned, up more than 50 per cent from just two years earlier.

Other changes

Assessment and taxation and animal services inquiries will be rerouted directly to more senior 311 staff who specialize in certain areas, easing the back-and-forth pressure from the generalist call centre employees fielding calls.

"[These requests] typically create a longer talk time for our customer service representatives. They would have two additional options for that: they would be routed within subject matter experts, within the 311 contact centre, for more service efficiencies and at least more accurate and quality information," said Mangahas.

On average, calls regarding assessment and taxation take six minutes, while animal service-related calls last an average of 17 minutes.

The city plans to launch a public awareness campaign to promote self-service options and reduce the reliance on telephone inquiries.