As the Board and its staff get prepared for its next meeting on Monday, August 14th, I am pleased to tell you that the summer has been very productive. All of the agency teams are handling very high volumes of matters, even with daily staff numbers reduced due to summer vacations. Despite this, the teams are keeping up with demand, but not as many or as quickly as we want.
The greatest challenge is still phone response times. Hold times are too long and average call length is also extended, reducing the number of calls that can be handled. In addition to adding more staff in the department, we are looking at some technology options that we will allow us to permit callers to leave a callback number without losing their place in line. In addition, the planned adoption of Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology will enable us to engage more part-time call responders, especially to handle the busiest mid-part of the day when staff is breaking for lunch; and permit more working from remote locations, replacing commuting time with actual time answering calls. Lastly, we will be testing an integrated system that automatically retrieves the records of the caller which would allow us to handle inquiries much faster and therefore handle more calls per hour. While these changes are more expensive to implement, we believe the efficiency is worth it to provide better service to you.
The next challenge is in the processing of applications. A sustained increase in the number of new license applications each year for the past 4 years has reached a point where we need more staff with greater skills to handle the volume of information and analysis more rapidly so we can meet our targets of exceptional service for you. So once again, we are investing in both more staff and in better technology. Look for more application processes to be offered via online services to reduce the amount of paper we need to handle. Expect processes to become more simplified for rapid completion. Asking for personal certification of routine matters rather than repeated documentation will assist us in this process. Combined with a risk analysis, inconsistencies in data will then require an audit to validate. We believe this approach will serve to make the agency more efficient and effective in fulfilling our mission.
Lastly, as we get better at consumer education, we have a higher number of complaints being filed and are implementing a variety of measures to educate license holders on compliance requirements. This is the approach we prefer, and only for serious or repeated lapses do we impose discipline. This policy is consistent with the law, rules, and direction given by our leaders appointed by the Governor.
All of these changes will require new resources to implement successfully. Fortunately, the agency has such resources, thanks to the demand for licenses, our SDSI status that enables us to hold reserves, and the careful stewardship the Commission and Board have exercised over their budgets, even while carefully reducing fees in key areas when warranted. Our August meeting is the time when we adopt next year’s budget, and the Budget Committee has done a good job of making many sound recommendations to help keep the agency both highly competitive and unquestionably effective. Stay plugged in by reading our communications, and follow us on Facebook, and Twitter. Thanks.