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Chapter 5.9

Centralize Consumer and Technical Telephone Assistance


Summary

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) responds to telephone calls from the public and from county assessor-collector’s offices about vehicle titles and registration at its Austin headquarters Help Desk and at its 17 Vehicles Titles and Registration regional offices. Questions range from where to renew a vehicle registration to very complicated questions from county employees using the automated Registration and Titling System. Centralizing this telephone assistance would provide a single contact number for questions and allow the regional offices to focus on their primary tasks. In addition, the Help Desk employees use software that allows them to see the same screens as the county employees, which can reduce the time needed to answer the call.


Background

When Texans have questions about the registration or titling of their vehicles, they often call or go to one of the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) 17 Vehicle Titles and Registration regional offices. Regional office employees responded to almost 854,000 phone calls during fiscal 1999, with about 45 percent from counties and 55 percent from the public.[1] At its Austin headquarters, TxDOT also operates a Help Desk with 14 employees answering general consumer questions, almost 228,000 such phone calls in 1999.[2]

Besides answering questions from the general public, TxDOT provides county assessor-collectors’ offices with technical information covering both procedural issues and the automated Registration and Titling System (RTS). TxDOT mails out Registration and Title Bulletins on procedural changes, title/registration manual changes, and RTS release notes.[3]

Ongoing technical training is provided by the Help Desk, which has 15 employees to answer technical questions from the counties.[4] During 1999, the Help Desk received almost 78,000 technical calls.[5] Help desk employees have computer aids that allows them to walk the caller through the transaction step-by-step while looking at the same screen the caller has in front of them.[6]

Field auditors, working out of the 17 regional offices, visit the 254 county assessor-collector offices at least once every month to perform various tasks including on-site training. The field auditors perform one-on-one training by monitoring the front counter clerks in the counties as they handle transactions and explain which features of RTS could be used to more effectively.[7]


Using Call Centers to Deliver Information Cost-Effectively

The private sector is increasingly using technology to reduce training costs and resolve customer problems. Dell, one of the worlds’ leaders in computer sales and customer service, has consistently won high marks from industry and the public for its customer service. Dell’s call center has helped it earn this reputation. During the early years of Dell’s growth, management decided that a call center would provide ease of access for customers and a place where all customer service needs could be met. With this in mind, the company has been moving toward a totally centralized call center. Dell firmly believes that accelerated sales, delivery of merchandise and quick customer service can be better accomplished with the help of a call center.[8]

At least 12 Texas state agencies operate their own call centers, with staffs ranging from about 15 to more than 190. The average daily calls range from about 500 to almost 20,000, while the average number of calls taken per employee depends upon the type of information provided. [9]


TxDOT’s Call Center

TxDOT’s call center, the Help Desk, could be expanded, so that the counties and consumers would have one number to call to get answers to their questions.

Regional office employees responded to almost 854,000 telephone calls in fiscal 1999. While the regional offices could not eliminate all of the calls they receive, the TxDOT Help Desk could be expanded to handle a large volume of these calls. Although the regional offices have expertise in titling and registration transactions, they do not have access to the same software. One benefit of the counties’ calls going to the Help Desk is that the call center staff’s specialized computer aids allow them to access the same screens as the callers, thus reducing the amount of time needed to handle the call. To handle the additional workload at the Help Desk, TxDOT could transfer employees from the regional offices to Austin since current employees have much of the appropriate expertise.


Recommendation

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) should centralize consumer and technical telephone assistance in its Help Desk.

TxDOT should direct the majority of incoming calls to the Help Desk. The Help Desk should expand its role to answer questions from the general public as well as from counties about registration and titling procedures and about the Registration and Titling System (RTS).

Directing most telephone inquiries to the Help Desk would significantly shift workload from the regional offices to the call center. About 64 employees would be needed to manage the additional Help Desk workload. To handle this transition, TxDOT would need to reallocate employees between the regional offices and the Help Desk, which could be accomplished through employee transfers or transfer of vacant positions.


Fiscal Impact

The estimate of the cost of this recommendation assumes that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would first attempt to transfer employees from the regional offices to staff the Help Desk. TxDOT estimates that its average moving cost per employee totals almost $2,800.[10] Assuming at least half of the employees needed would be transferred, TxDOT would incur moving cost of about $90,000 during the biennium. The estimate also assumes that TxDOT would complete this centralization over the course of the biennium and would incur half of the moving costs each year.

Employees in the regional offices perform multiple functions including responding to telephone questions. The recommendation identifies the number of employees that would be needed if those employees responded to telephone questions full-time. The productivity savings, which frees up regional office employees, is captured in the fiscal impact of the recommendation to create county one-stop shops contained in this report.

Fiscal Year
Cost to the State Highway Fund
2002
$45,000
2003
$45,000
2004
0
2005
0
2006
0

Endnotes

[1] Telephone interview with Harry Morgan, director, Field Operations, Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas, August 16, 2000, and Texas Department of Transportation, Regional Office Work Summary Report, Fiscal 1999.

[2] Texas Department of Transportation, “VTR Customer Help Desk,” Austin, Texas, December 6, 1999. (Organization chart); and Texas Department of Transportation, “Public Calls 1999,” Austin, Texas. (Computer printout)

[3] Letter from Kirby W. Pickett, P.E., deputy executive director, Texas Department of Transportation, to Clint Winters, Research and Policy Development Division, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, September 14, 2000 and Texas Department of Transportation, “VTR Customer Help Desk” Austin, Texas, December 6, 1999. (Organization chart)

[4] Letter from Kirby W. Pickett, P.E., deputy executive director, Texas Department of Transportation, to Clint Winters, Research and Policy Development Division, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, September 14, 2000.

[5] Texas Department of Transportation, “Automation Calls 1999,” Austin, Texas. (Computer printout)

[6] Telephone interview with Harry Morgan, director, Field Operations, Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, Austin, Texas, August 9, 2000.

[7] Telephone interview with Danny Garza, assistant director, Field Operations, Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas, August 18, 2000.

[8] Telephone interview with Al Lanctor, director, Communications, Dell Computer, Austin, Texas August 24, 2000; and Bill Howard, “Service and Reliability,” PC Magazine, July 2000 (www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2595277,00.html), (www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2594465,00.html) (Internet documents.)

[9] Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas Performance Review, “TPR Analysis of Major State Call Centers in Austin,” Austin, Texas, June 1998.

[10] Telephone interview with Roger Cramer, manager, Voucher Processing, Finance Division, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas, July 28, 2000.