The first private call center contracted by the state of Florida in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to handle unemployment assistance inquiries answered just 8.3% of the calls it received in June, records show.
Faneuil Inc., a Virginia-based company with offices in Orlando, was hired by Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity on March 29 to receive and process overflow calls from the agency’s existing call centers.
Statistical reports produced by Faneuil indicate that the company answered nearly 93,000 of the 1.1 million phone calls offered to it by DEO in June.
Nearly 29% of the calls were abandoned when the caller hung up, records show.
According to the reports, more than 63% of the calls were “blocked”, meaning the caller received a busy signal or was disconnected before reaching an agent.
Call logs provided by News 6 by DEO through a public records request do not provide a complete picture of call volume in April and May.
According to the state contract, Faneuil was required to “answer up to 80% of the calls received” on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Another portion of the contract indicates the company was required to provide staff available to answer “100% of all calls received within eight minutes.”
DEO representatives did not respond to questions about its original expectations of the contractor.
According to the contract, DEO reserved the right to increase or decrease the number of calls above or below the “10,000 call estimate”.
The contract does not provide further detail of that call estimate, including whether the agency anticipated offering Faneuil 10,000 calls per day, per week or per month.
Although DEO representatives did not respond to News 6′s questions about the call estimate, records indicate the agency offered Faneuil 1.1 million calls in June, with an average of nearly 50,000 calls per day Monday through Friday.
“Serving Floridians during this unprecedented economic and public health crisis continues to be the number one priority of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity,” DEO Press Secretary Paige Landrum said in a statement to News 6.
“The impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis on Florida’s workforce has been tremendous and has directly resulted in an unprecedented influx of individuals seeking benefits administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Reemployment Assistance program,” said Landrum. “In response, the Department took immediate action to increase the number of customer service representatives to address the 8,749% increase in call volume that took place within one months’ time.”
Representatives from Faneuil did not respond to questions from News 6 or provide comment for this story.
Under the contract, the state will pay Faneuil’s staff between $32.98 and $35.15 per hour, up to a maximum of $17.5 million, with the exact hourly rate dependent on staff size and equipment provided by the vendor.
Faneuil has received nearly $2 million since the contract was signed, state records show.
Faneuil is one of at least four private call center contractors hired by DEO to assist unemployment benefit claimants.
Titan Technologies, which entered into a contract with DEO about a week after Faneuil, answered only 25% of the 2.8 million calls offered to it by DEO between May 18 and June 6, records show.
A DEO spokesperson tells News 6 the agency continues to improve its call center capabilities.
“As of August 20, more than 6,200 customer service representatives have been trained to assist individuals seeking additional information about their reemployment assistance claim,” said Landrum. “To date, of the more than 6,200 representatives, 3,186 representatives are fully trained and equipped to answer claim-specific information. Included in the more than 6,200, an additional 137 representatives are being trained to answer claim-specific questions.”
An average of more than 4,100 customer service representatives were available to assist Floridians each day during the week of August 16, according to DEO.
“Average wait times for the Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center are less than 25 minutes, and wait times continue to decrease,” Landrum said. “The answer rate in the Customer Service Centers increases weekly.”
“The Department continues to issue proactive correspondence to claimants to ensure it maintains its reputation of transparency and to help decrease demand for Customer Service Representatives,” Landrum added.