Free calls for emergencies, services

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Musa Mkalipi

freecalls1-text Seventy free call lines have been installed by the City of Cape Town in disadvantaged areas.
(Image: City of Cape Town)

freecalls2-text The free call lines are located in municipal buildings such as housing offices, cash offices, libraries and community facilities.
(Image:790tv)

MEDIA CONTACTS
• Emma Powell
City of Cape Town
Executive support to mayoral committee
+27 21 400 4331

Some 70 free call lines have been installed by the city of Cape Town in outlying areas and disadvantaged communities in an effort to bring services closer to residents. The lines can be used by residents to contact the city with queries or requests about services such as accounts, refuse collection, illegal dumping, water leaks, sewer blockages, street lights, pot holes and damaged roads.

“The purpose of the free call lines is to improve service delivery by increasing access to the city’s call centre,” explains Demetri Qually, the mayoral committee member for corporate services. “We are extending the network of free call telephones to areas where low volumes of service complaints and requests are currently being registered.”

This, he says, is due to a lack of cellphone airtime or available telephone lines in these areas. Located in Cape Town’s customer relations department within its corporate services directorate, the call centre helps residents as well as businesses.

The free call lines are located in municipal buildings such as housing offices, cash offices, libraries and community facilities. But after criticism from residents that these offices were not open 24 hours a day, the city changed tack. “The customer relations department then created the free call lines that give access to service delivery without having to dedicate a full-time resource to the Strand Offices,” explains Emma Powell, executive support to mayoral committee.

When a call is made using a free call line – simply by lifting the receiver – the caller is automatically connected straight to the call centre, where an agent responds to the customer’s query or complaint. Complaints are logged by means of the city’s service request system. The customer receives a reference number to follow up his or her query. There is no cost to the caller.

“The lines connect directly with the city’s call centre number, and residents are encouraged to report faults, register complaints and make enquiries at no cost to them. They will also now receive an acknowledgement SMS with a reference number for follow up,” Qually says.

Complaints are tracked by a specialised monitoring team. They are uploaded on to an integrated virtual dashboard which is monitored by the management teams in the respective departments.

Lines have been installed in suburbs such as Athlone, Atlantis, Belhar, Lwandle, Mitchells Plain, Gugulethu and Phillipi, among others. Qually says that in a city as large as Cape Town, residents are encouraged to help in identifying municipal problems for response and maintaining a high standard of service delivery.

The first free call lines were installed in July 2009, the first four of which were in the Strand municipal offices in Lwandle and Khayelitsha. Cape Town receives an average of 50 000 calls annually, mostly coming from disadvantaged areas.

Call centre hours for corporate issues are from 7am until 9pm, while water and electricity centres are open 24 hours.

Service delivery and education

Cape Town has also worked to bring emergency services closer to the people, especially those in disadvantaged areas. Its 107 single emergency telephone number is a toll free number that visitors and residents can call to ask for help when their lives or property are in danger.

Emergency calls such as for police, medical, traffic, and mountain and sea rescue go through 107. All calls to this number are answered within 10 to 20 seconds, the city says, and services are available seven days a week throughout the day. Callers can choose to be helped in English, Xhosa or Afrikaans.

The 107 communication centre has been running since 2000, staffed by professional call agents to help callers with emergencies. According to The Guardian, a monthly community publication, the city’s mission is to enhance residents’ quality of life by handling all calls for service in a prompt, courteous, professional and correct manner.

When a call is made on the 107 number, the emergency communication centre is able to see where the call is coming from and the telephone number that is used. The call is then directed to the relevant police, fire or ambulance service.

The city holds annual public awareness and education programmes to teach people about the number, to eliminate abuse of emergency numbers. These programmes are presented at schools, libraries as well as community events. The line’s mascot, Wally 107, travels around the city educating children about the emergency toll free number. In 2010, for example, Wally visited over 120 school pupils in Western Cape.