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10,000 calls a day go unanswered at Colorado unemployment call center, new tech may bring relief

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Posted at 6:08 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 09:05:20-04

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DENVER -- Somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 calls go unanswered at Colorado's unemployment call center every day, but new technology may bring some relief.

In the meantime, people are contacting Denver7's Jaclyn Allen for help getting their checks.

"It's a vicious circle, literally sitting at the kitchen table hitting redial, redial, redial," said LeAnne Vickol, who tried to reach a real person at the unemployment call center for months because she wasn't getting her checks. "You feel helpless."

It's no surprise no one answers. Denver7 has learned that since the pandemic began, unemployment calls have shot up to more than 12,000 per day, and the call center can only answer between 2,000 to 3,000 calls.

Cher Haavind, the deputy executive director at the state Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), says the agency just hired more than 80 new agents and that most questions people have can be answered through online tools and videos, but she acknowledges the system is not working.

"Quite frankly, now, you don't know what you'll get," said Haavind. "You don't know if you'll get through or on hold or make no connection at all. We have a new solution that we're implementing, in fact, this week that we hope brings some relief."

This week, the agency is launching a Google-run technology called a "virtual agent," an automated service that can answer the most common questions online and over the phone. If it can't help, the system will schedule a callback with a live person.

The idea? No more holding on the phone for hours or disconnects from the department.

"It's like requesting an appointment with your cable company, so are you available at this date during this window during this time and we'll call you to discuss your claim," said Haavind, who warned that with any technology there will be growing pains and that the callback appointments are expected to fill up fast.

"You pray at night," said Vickol, who filed her claim and did not get her deposits. "You go to bed and you pray please, please, please."

She showed how the Frequently Asked Questions link on the unemployment website appeared to be broken.

"You've got to be kidding me," she said. "So I decided to call you."

There is no way Denver7 can help thousands of unanswered calls a day, but in some cases, we can try, and LeAnne said she soon learned her banking account information was wrong.

"Lo and behold, it was less than 48 hours later; we got our first payment in our account this morning," she said. And we're able to catch up our bills. Thank you so much to Denver7. You guys saved us."