It's Day 4 of "Dialing for CalPERS," the ongoing and highly unscientific series that spot checks how long the fund's Interactive Voice Response system says callers must wait to speak with a real person.
Hold time for a 4:10 p.m call today to the disability benefits unit, according to the automated system: 29 minutes.
We've been talking to CalPERS about the situation. Officials there say that the IVR's estimates often overstate caller hold times. Here's an explanation and a tip on when are the best time and worst times to call in:
The system gives callers a snapshot of the length of time that they'll be on hold based on various factors at the moment they call in. Those factors are in constant flux and can vary dramatically, minute to minute.
"At any given time, the system can tell, for example, that 120 agents are on the line working 20 minutes per call. It's processing a lot of intelligence, including how many people ahead of you," said CalPERS spokesman Robert Glazier.
The system might estimate that, given those facts, the estimated caller wait time is 30 minutes.
But if several people abandon their calls or a bunch of callers receiving help get off the phone quickly or several call center staff return from a break, the hold time for callers in the queue could significantly drop.
That's why CalPERS says average wait time over a period of a full business day in recent weeks has ranged from 27 minutes up to 54 minutes.
Do abandoned calls figure into those daily statistics?
"We don't calculate dropped calls as part of the wait time," Glazier said.
The automated system's hold time overestimates don't exactly make the best impression, but "most of the time the wait will be less," Glazier said.
And here's a tip that our spot checks seem to bear out: Call later and you'll wait less. The best time to call is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., CalPERS' Brad Pacheco said. CalPERS' call volumes are heaviest between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. That's the worst time to call.