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Service NSW: Stepping up in times of crisis

30 June 2022

CSIA spoke with Susan Ferguson, Director Contact Centres – Production at Service NSW, talks about the dedication of its staff and why excellent customer service is vital.

New South Wales was hard hit by the devastating bushfires that raged throughout 2019, faced a global pandemic from 2020 and bore the brunt of the recent catastrophic floods. In times of crisis such as these, expert guidance, advice and compassion are needed. Service New South Wales’ support services stepped up during these times of crisis, with their expert call centre pivoting almost overnight from facilitating standard transactions to offering personalised support via an emergency support line. Their efforts were recently recognised at the Customer Service Institute of Australia Awards, being awarded the 2021 Best of the Best Award, with their dedicated Contact Centre unit winning the Best of the Best award, the Customer Service Team of the Year and runner up for Service Excellence in large Contact Centre.


How challenging was it for Service NSW to pivot from a primarily transactional role to offering personalised support via an emergency support line?

Our Community and Life Events team provide assistance for a range of partner agencies like Birth, Deaths and Marriages and for Cost of Living assistance packages. The nature of these calls requires empathy when addressing vulnerable customers and difficult events. These skills made them best suited to upskill and take on this challenge. The devastation caused from the bushfires highlighted the need for a Customer Care Program to aid in the recovery process. Working closely with Resilience NSW and other NGOs, the team helped navigate resources and grants available for those severely affected. Months later NSW was ravaged by floods, incorporating lessons learnt, the same process was undertaken. Given the current climate, an ongoing need for an Emergency Disaster Welfare Line (DWAL) was identified and a team was established.


What are some of the ways the team offered support?

They provide accurate and efficient information and assistance to customers in determining eligibility, and, as needed, applying for various NSW Government support services while ensuring that the customer experience provided is specific, clear and empathic. Specialised customer care was essential to manage and prioritise the unprecedented high volumes. The SSS customer care role was created to provide hypercare case management for severely affected and vulnerable customers.


Were additional staff required, and how quickly were they trained?

When COVID 19 hit, a temporary 24/7 hotline was incorporated as directed by the Premier and we expanded the team from 30 to over 250 dedicated staff. The Premier also announced the P1000 strategy in which Service NSW employed over 1000 new team members affected by COVID. We developed a tier 1/2 model to ensure specialist teams were available to support our most at need customers, with the ability to scale up staffing capacity quickly if call demand increased. Currently we have 30 Community Customer Care specialists.


Soon after the bushfire crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia, requiring the team to provide additional support to those affected. It must have been challenging?

Over 85% of our team members transitioned to work from home for the first time and were provided with equipment to work remotely. This presented the challenge of how to support staff, engage, motivate and ensure safety and wellbeing. The team was increasingly handling more complex, sensitive, and difficult situations. We had no way of predicting call volumes as well as customer volatility. Onboarding was at a large scale, frequent and rapid to ensure service agreements could be met as volumes increased for existing services and the new initiatives introduced. Information and training had to become agile, evolving due to changing circumstances, announcements, and crisis priorities.


The team has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life of the people of NSW – this must be incredibly rewarding for them, and for you personally?

One of the great benefits of completing these awards process is that together the team have been able to reflect on their achievements together. Listening to some of the stories of interactions they have had and contributions they made is heartwarming. It's those daily encounters where they were able to impact change and help someone in the community that is the most meaningful for them. It is the driving force to come in and deal with those difficult situations and turn them around. We are committed to continuous improvement through innovation and we continue to exceed target results with 64% of our customer calls being answered within 60 seconds.


The Service NSW Contact Centre has really set the bar in providing world class customer service in Australia. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

At Service NSW, a positive customer experience is our highest priority. We draw on the best in service delivery from the public and private sectors to provide leading customer experiences.

Our culture – customer and community at the centre, people at the heart, partner collaboration at its best and DNA values (Passion, Teamwork, Accountability, Service, Integrity and Trust) shape our measures of success. We continually measure our performance and use customer feedback to improve the customer experience across the different channels.

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