15 September 2009
South Africans can now dial 17737 (toll-free from a landline) to get through to a call centre at the President’s office with questions or gripes about government service delivery. Some callers may even find themselves speaking to Jacob Zuma himself!
Callers will have the option of being helped in a variety of languages, and calls will be recorded and logged for quality, tracking and monitoring purposes. A call log will help the Presidency monitor turnaround times and gather information – to tell them, for example, which government department receives the most complaints.
The R4-million service is operational between 7.30am and 10pm, and has 21 well-informed hotline agents, backed up by 43 public liaison officers, dedicated to answering inquiries.
Each government department and each province has assigned a public liaison officer to help handle inquiries that cannot be solved by the Presidency alone.
Speaking to Zuma
And some callers may be lucky enough to speak to the President himself. Zuma will have a direct link to an online platform where he can take calls directly, depending on his schedule and when he is in his office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Zuma announced in his State of the Nation Address earlier this year that he intended setting up a public liaison unit, which would include a toll-free hotline to handle public inquiries, as part of the efforts to move towards a “more interactive government”.
Deputy director-general in the Presidency Vusi Mona said Zuma had attached a lot of importance to handling each inquiry like it was the only one, and following it through all channels until it received the attention it deserved. “This project is very close to the heart of the President. It’s one of his pet projects,” he said.
Mona said the hotline would become a key service delivery improvement instrument and monitoring and evaluation tool, which was of importance to the new administration.
“The President has indicated that this is not a public relations exercise, but forms part of the government’s attempts to change the way it operates.”
Zuma’s word of advice
Zuma visited the centre on its first day of operation, 14 September, 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,” Zuma said. “Remain calm, patient and be humane and human. You will solve a lot of problems if you remain human and avoid being technical.”
Zuma added that part of the call centre agent’s job was 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 the government is bad or is of inferior quality.
“You are the frontline of government communications and citizen care and support,” Zuma said. “Smile when you take those calls, as people can feel your mood wherever they are.”