Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Merely answering business phone calls can stop COVID-19

Years ago, the management of the Ministry of Local Government and Lands (as it then was) identified huge gaps across the board in telephone etiquette. Determining this to be a service delivery problem, it developed basic call-handling best practices that it tried to implement within the Ministry. One practice was that all incoming telephone calls should be answered before the third ring and entailed unengaged officers picking up calls to another extension after the second ring. Subsequently, this information would be shared by a director from the Ministry when making a presentation on telephone etiquette at a Botswana National Productivity Centre workshop held in Gaborone.

The context of “tried” is as follows: in a show of deft journalism, a reporter who attended the workshop subsequently called numerous numbers at the Ministry as a way of ascertaining what the Director had said. He found and wrote a story showing that some calls were either picked after way more than three rings or were not answered at all.With COVID-19 ravaging the world in all realms, it is interesting to observe that call-handling best practices in Botswana are also a factor in the fight against the pandemic. The greatest concern would have to be of organisations where, in keeping with a long-standing tradition, telephone calls are not answered at all. On the list of the biggest culprits are the call centres of public utilities organisations where some customers call to report faults that require urgent attention.

The latter tendency is hugely problematic within the context of public health protocols that are in place because a customer who wants to report a fault but gets no answer from a service provider, ends up visiting the office of the concerned service provider where s/he will find many more people in the same predicament.The problem that the Ministry of Local Government and Lands failed to solve years ago, is found in virtually all government offices.

However, unlike in years past, the most obvious solution to it (visiting an office where calls are rarely answered) now presents a public health risk. In fairness to the government though, failure to answer telephone calls also happens in the private sector and among the culprits is a big-name store at Game City shopping mall in Gaborone. The latter means that a customer calling to find out whether something s/he wants to buy is in stock, ends up having to actually travel to the mall and store (an overcrowded environment) to make such query in person, in the process exposing him/herself and others to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

If this virus is at all man-made, the genius who made it would likely have taken full measure of human failings in various settings and some of those failings fall squarely under basic call-handling best practices. The Presidential COVID-19 Taskforce has homed in on certain practices that are not helpful with regard to the containment of the pandemic and the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020 represent legislative attempt to help such effort.

With its labour productivity problems, Botswana should certainly pay greater attention to workplace practices that can defeat effort to fight the disease. Alongside corona-themed entreaties that members off the public should drink alcohol at home (“Di Nwele Dladleng”) and stay home (#nnagakeegope), should be one that targets (especially government) workplaces to answer incoming phone calls in order to reduce the human traffic that would otherwise stream in and cause overcrowding.

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The Telegraph October 28

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 28, 2020.