The Presidential Hotline, which allows members of the public to lodge an enquiry or complaint directly in the President’s office, received about 7 261 calls in its first three hours. Vusi Mona, Deputy Director General in the Presidency told BuaNews about 2 420 calls were being handled per hour, or 40 calls a minute, since the hotline became operational at around 9am.
Calls to the toll free hotline number, 17737, take about 15 to 20 minutes to ensure all the information is captured. “The public response to the hotline is overwhelming,” said Mona, adding that this showed that the hotline was not a public relations exercise, but was meant to improve the way the government works and makes the government more accessible.
He said the only challenge thus far had been the large caller volumes, but he assured the public that a technical team was working around the clock to ensure operations ran smoothly. Twenty one specially trained Public Liaison Officers took up their seats at the Union Buildings to handle calls and respond to general public inquiries and complaints over service delivery and questions about government.
They are supported by a network of 43 Public Liaison Officers. Each department and each province has assigned a Public Liaison Officer who will help deal with enquires that can not be solved by the Presidency alone. Mona said that the next two weeks will be used to identify and solve technical glitches so that when President Jacob Zuma officially launches the service, all the interim problems have been eliminated.
President Zuma visited the centre on its first day of operation to offer a word of advice to the call centre agents. “You may receive calls from very angry people, who would have been provoked by your colleagues from other departments. Remain calm, patient and be humane and human. You will solve a lot of problems if you remain human and avoid being technical.
“They will say there is no water, there is no electricity; and be ready to deal with all of that efficiently and professionally. It is a service delivery hotline so expect all those types of questions,” said the President. He said that once the system was working efficiently, the volume of calls was expected to go down “as government should by then be more responsive, departments will have learnt the importance of responding quickly”.
Part of the call centre agent’s job is to improve the government’s image. “We want people to be able to tell us what their problems are with service delivery, so that we can assist directly.” He urged the staff to work together to eradicate the stigma that makes people think anything from government is bad or is of inferior quality. “Let me reiterate that you are the frontline of government communications and citizen care and support. Smile when you take those calls as people can feel your mood wherever they are.
“Your attitude will speak volumes. Remember we are doing this to improve government service delivery, and you are in the forefront of that campaign.” Zuma was able to answer a few calls as the hotline opened. He took a call from a distressed citizen from Mouny Frere in the Eastern Cape who complained about receiving ill treatment at her local magistrates’ court.
The caller’s husband passed away in 2006 and she had been trying to access his pension but was experiencing problems, said the Presidency. “President Zuma also took a call from a gentleman from Ekurhuleni North, Benoni, who highlighted his disappointment that his area has been experiencing sewerage leakages for months on end without the municipality resolving the matter,” said the President. Zuma recorded the details before handing them over to the call centre agents.