South Africa

COLD DIS-SERVICE (PART TWO)

‘Please be patient, your call will be answered’ – we test Sassa, SAPS, SARS and UIF hotlines

‘Please be patient, your call will be answered’ – we test Sassa, SAPS, SARS and UIF hotlines
Unsplash | UIF, SAPS, Sassa and SARS logos. (Images: Supplied)

In the second part of our series that tests key South African government hotlines, we found quick call lines and dropped calls. In one instance, 16 minutes were spent trying to reach one agency – and then the line dropped.

Tax consultants only in English, high drop rates and 700,000 calls a month to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) were some of the problems that emerged during Daily Maverick’s second report on calling various government call centres. 

Previously, Daily Maverick reported on the call times for a gender-based violence hotline, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, Eskom and Home Affairs. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Please be patient, your call will be answered’ – we test four key SA government hotlines

Following that article, scores of Daily Maverick readers called out call centres for poor customer service. These included Sassa, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the South African Police Service (SAPS). 

South African Police Service (SAPS)

The SAPS number 10111 was easy to find on a mobile phone.

Experience: The police’s response time was the quickest by far: five seconds before a human picked up the phone. In January 2023, Daily Maverick reported that questions had been raised about the capacity of the 10111 call centres following complaints about staff shortages and dropped calls. 

Response: The SAPS has not responded yet to Daily Maverick’s queries. We were told spokesperson Athlenda Mathe was on leave and would be back on Monday to have a look at our questions. 

South African Social Security Agency (Sassa

The agency’s grant helpline 080 060 1011 was relatively easy to find online when searching on a phone. 

Experience: When we called an automated voice asked what type of assistance was needed: child, Social Relief of Distress (SRD) or old age grant. After 30 seconds the voice declared that we had exceeded our time to make a selection and the process started again. We clicked on the option for help with the R350 SRD grant. After 12 seconds another automated voice asked for a language selection “C”, but we could not hear on a constituent level because some of the languages were loud and others very soft. After English was selected we were about 2.47 seconds in. Then, an automated voice said there was a high call volume. After about three minutes a human voice answered. 

Response: Sassa’s Dineo Mosete, senior manager: internal communication, said Sassa call centres “receive an estimate of more than 700,000 calls in a month” which are attended by both in-house and outsourced call centres. The agency had appointed an external service provider who assists and handles the call centre volumes, but based on the number of beneficiaries Sassa was serving, “we will still experience abandonment of calls”. Mosete said Sassa was in the process of appointing a service provider who will help with the provision of “self-service platforms as an alternative method of contacting the agency”. 

Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)

The UIF call centre number 0800 030 007 was easy to find. 

Experience: The line was busy when we called, and an automated voice said we were in the queue. Another automated voice asked us to remain on the call after an agent had finished so that a UIF call survey would be completed. After about 1.03 minutes a human voice picked up. 

Response: Trevor Hattingh, the UIF’s director of communication and marketing, told Daily Maverick the fund’s highest call volumes were between Monday and Wednesday, 7.30am to 1pm. When asked what methods it used to prevent employers and employees from spending too long on the phone, Hattingh said the fund uses email to interact with and service clients. It also used an interactive voice system that segmented clients according to their enquiry type, which then directed them to a team member with the knowledge and skills to help them quickly.  

South African Revenue Service (SARS)

The SARS number 0800 007 277 was easy to find online. Several Daily Maverick readers surveyed said the SARS call centre was difficult to engage, with long waiting times before they were helped. 

Experience: The call was long, with an automated voice listing the various options available at SARS, including branch appointments, tax practitioners, case follow-ups, customs and small business support. An automated voice said tax practitioners were only able to assist in English. At about 3.50 minutes into the call we were in the process of being transferred to an agent. An automated voice said SARS was experiencing high call volumes and we could either stay on the line or ask for a call-back. In five minutes another voice said there were high call volumes. Then, an upbeat song started to play. We were 118 and then 98 in the queue. After 15 minutes we were 78th. After the 16-minute mark the line dropped with no explanation. 

Response: When Daily Maverick asked SARS why there were such high call volumes, Siphithi Sibeko, head of communications and media, said “the seasonality of SARS activities determines call volumes”. As for tax practitioners only being able to assist in English, Sibeko referred to the SARS language policy under section 6, in particular sections 6.2 and 6.3, which read:  

6.2: due to practicalities such as systems, efficiency, budget, the constraints of African language terminology and current language terminology within SARS all electronic platforms including eFilling, e@sy File, the SARS website, the SARS intranet as well as human resources, procurement and financial systems will be in English. 

6.3: The transactional language of the organisation for external and internal operational purposes with staff, taxpayers and other stakeholders will be in English”. 

Alternative ways to contact SARS were USSD *134*7277#; website; SARS Online Query System (SOQS); contact us at SARS; sand SARS Social Media pages. DM

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  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Fair comment but try British Airways land line which provides options and more options and because I was desperate to talk to someone I waited, I eventually gave up after 23.06 minutes. Yes stupid me! looked up their address on the web, got into my car and drove to the given address to discover they had moved without leaving a forwarding address!

  • Liz Page says:

    Time to try private company offenders too. I spent 72 hours over the last weekend trying to speak to a human on the FNB digital account helpline. My problem/query was not covered by the inevitable selection of choices. My calls were dropped a couple of times while still “press 1” instructions were being given. The first human transferred me to another. Of course the call was dropped. After 72 hours of frustration I eventually communicated with an intelligent being who attended to my convoluted problem. Thank you Maxine. Having finished the call I wondered aloud about something I might have asked while I was still connected. This suggestion came from my Luddite husband – who has never transacted with a call centre in his 72 years “Why don’t you phone them back and ask for Maxine?”

  • shannon Maxwell says:

    I recently had awful high blood pressure inducing experiences dealing with the call centres of 1st for Woman for two separate policies and incidents. Then let me not start on Standard Bank call centre who seem to employ very patient and lovely but highly incompetent staff. I spoke to 6 staff members, one after another, repeating my story each time they put me through to yet another incompetent. Ultimately they told me I must go into the bank. A fate akin to root canal treatment. I did that in desperation, and a delightfully efficient lady answered my query and solved my problem in ten minutes and I wondered why the 6 call centre ladies were nowhere near being able to respond to what turned out to be a very simple answer. Why are these big companies not capable of employing people who can actually HELP instead of reducing me to a jibbering idiot by the end of the ordeal?

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