It was a few months ago when I started hearing rumours about a Fiji Government call centre opening up at the old FVB building in downtown Suva. It was apparently slated to be a 24 hour operation. I initially interpreted that to mean that the building would remain standing for 24 hours but not necessarily that people would be inside working.
A week or so ago, however, I saw the official announcement on the news. The 24 hour Fiji Government call centre was up and running, staffed by 12 people who would hear complaints on water and roads, listen to issues related to billing errors and even provide weather updates. The operation was established by the Ministry of Works which, given so many of my experiences with them over the years, might as well have been re-branded as the Ministry of Silly Walks.
Tonight, 21 July, 2009, I made my first call to them.
For starters, it took me forever to find their number. I visited just about every Fiji news site, portal and government online presence as I could and although I was able to find plenty of news stories about the call centre operations and opening, none actually listed the damn telephone number. This is not surprising given the frequency with which I see news reports about newly launched websites without any mention of a URL..but I digress. After clicking through a history of FijiTV's daily broadcasts for the ten days, I found a video file which I had to download and then view so I could hear the telephone number read out to me. For the record and future reference, the toll-free number is:
Oh...why was I calling?
Well..it's like 11 p.m. and it's friggin' cold as hell outside and I wanted to take a hot shower. I went into my bathroom to find that there is ZERO water coming from the taps. Such a disappointment. So I decided to take advantage of this futuristic new service and call it in.
The call centre has got a decent automated phone system which offered me some choices but I zeroed out to the operator and my call was immediately answered by Emma who wanted to know how she could help me. It seemed ridiculous to me that I was making this call at 11 p.m. at night since I've never even been able to get utility help during the day but here I was, givin' the government the benefit of the doubt.
Emma asked me who I was (Jonathan) and where I was calling from (Suva Point). She asked whether other people in the neighborhood were also having the same problem (I didn't know). She told me I was the only person who had called with such a complaint but she apologised for the hassle (!) and told me she would find out what the deal is and call me back. I didn't ask when that would be since I doubted a call back would come in a timely fashion but I thanked her for her help, hung up and went searching through the house for some bottled water so I could at least brush my teeth. I don't intend to sound ridiculously cynical here but it's just about impossible to get service from the utilities that I actually pay money to in this country, how the hell am I going to get it for free from a government department? That written, Emma was very professional, attentive and helpful.
Ten minutes later, my mobile rings. It's Emma calling me back to report that yes, indeed there was a problem. She told me that "a water main burst at the FMF dome". I didn't have the heart to explain that it was now the Vodafone Arena because it hardly seemed relevant and I was so surprised to have even gotten a call back. She went on to say that I should rest assured that "workmen were busy right now repairing the problem and I should expect water supply to be up and running tomorrow."
Seriously. That's just awesome. Emma rocks. So does this service.
It's not about actually having to fix the problem as much as it is listening to a "customer" and giving them information in return. There are a number of companies around that could benefit greatly from following the lead of the Ministry of Works here.
Thumbs up, Ministry. Well done. You've made it look easy.