Centrelink call centre: real people, please, not robots

Article published 24 March 2021

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RECENTLY, CPSA received a call from a man in his nineties who said he had run out of savings and could he please have the pension.

We explained to him he needed to apply to Centrelink online. He could also ring them up, or he could go to a Centrelink office in person.

However, he was not online.

His eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer drive to get him to the nearest Centrelink office. He lived alone. He did not have home care. No one to drive him or help him.

We gave him the number for Centrelink, 13 23 00. This number is described on the Centrelink website as the “Centrelink Older Australians Line”.

If you ring it, an automated, speech recognition-enabled answering service asks you for your Customer Access Number.

CPSA gave it try to see what this man in his nineties would encounter when he rang the Centrelink Older Australians Line.

We were asked for our Customer Access Number “if you have one”.

In a clear voice, we said: “Don’t have one”.

The answering service comes back with: “I think you said you don’t have one. Is that correct?”

“Yes”, we said.

“You’ll find your Customer Access Number on any piece of correspondence we have sent you. So, let’s try that again. What is your Customer Access Number?”

This went around a few more times before we decided to hang up.

We tried a second time. This time the system did interpret our “Don’t have one” correctly and after a few more questions we got onto a live operator.

The question is how our caller, the man in his nineties would have gone.

When CPSA Head Office closed down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our phones went on automatic answering with options to get through to the right person.

Calls to CPSA dropped dramatically. It is the reason two members of staff returned to the office after only three months working from home. After that, calls returned to their previous levels very quickly.

It goes to show that people, particularly older people, and particularly when they are trying to access an essential service like the Age Pension, need to be answered by a real live person, not a robot.

For more information please email our media contact at media@cpsa.org.au

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