Customer service measurement

In the UK, householders pay their electricity supply companies for the units that they use.  Those supply companies then pay the producers and distribution companies.  Our local distribution company sends out newsletters to householders, even though we are at one step removed from one another financially.  However, there is a direct link when the power goes down, either by accident or by design.  So the newsletter is relevant (are there other businesses which communicate with the customers of their customers?)

The latest issue included the following:
In customer service, we answered over 99% of inbound calls within 20 seconds - with an average speed of answer of under 2 seconds.  This is quite an achievement given that it involved answering over 1.1 million calls.

So, congratulations to Western Power Distribution.  If you think about the OR involved with their phone answering system, the achievement really is substantial.  First of all, which average of which measurement are they using that is less than 2 seconds?  Given the skewness of the distribution of waiting times for phones to be answered in general, I would suspect that the average is either the median or the mode (where the time to answer has been sliced into units of seconds or fractions of seconds).  Using the mean seems a little unlikely, given that there are still 1% of calls taking over 20 seconds.  And do they measure the time to get through to a human voice or a computer choice?  Secondly, and this is impressive, the calls to the company will not come at a constant rate; the rate will vary with time of day, day of week, by month, and - most important - will have peaks at times of poor weather.  So, Western Power has managed to find a way of handling calls at its call centres which cope with the vagaries of the British climate, and seasonal variations. 

Other companies have something to learn; my recent experience of calling 24-hour call centres at weekends and holidays has been somewhat less satisfactory - Exeter City Council, no response after 15 mins; Devon & Cornwall Police, no response after 8mins for a non-emergency call.


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