Toowoomba Smart Centre looks back on 20 years and 10 million calls

Bernadette Mills has worked at Toowoomba Smart Centre since 1997

This September marks 20 years since the phone lines opened at the Department of Human Services Toowoomba Smart Centre.

Over this time, staff have answered about 10 million calls and processed more than 300,000 claims.

Service Support Manager Bernadette Mills said she is proud to have worked with the team at Toowoomba for the last two decades, and is amazed when she looks back on how their work has changed over time.

“It would not have even seemed possible when I started that people could log on to digital self-service options and make updates themselves,” Bernadette said.

“We used to only take calls from the local area, and now we help people from all over Australia.”

For service officer Joshua Allen, changes to payments and technology have kept him on his toes over his 20 years with the department.

“The job is challenging, especially because the work types change over time,” Joshua said.

“But we have a lot of very clever and experienced people at the Smart Centre, and the team has evolved to keep up.”

Helen Harwood, who started as a call operator in 1997, said while change is always around the corner, the Toowoomba team has remained committed to supporting people who need their help.

“Since the introduction of self-service options we can spend more time helping individuals with more complex situations,” Helen said.

“Giving people a helping hand when they need it most is what it’s all about.”

It’s a sentiment Bernadette shares. She said the team has banded together through a number of challenging times for the Toowoomba community.

“We have been there for the community during cyclone, flood and fire recovery,” Bernadette said.

“I feel truly privileged being in a position to help the community.”

The 2011 floods were particularly difficult for several staff whose homes and cars were damaged when flash flooding devastated Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley. But there was a job to be done and still they continued to help to others.

Staff’s cars in the aftermath of the 2011 floods
Staff’s cars in the aftermath of the 2011 floods

While helping people is their day job, the Smart Centre staff’s community spirit extends to regular fundraising for local charities. The team has raised more than $150,000 for various causes.

At a recent anniversary celebration, staff were recognised for their contributions in leadership and customer and community service.

Smart Centre Manager Debra Hopkins said it was an important occasion for staff to celebrate their achievements, as well as looking towards the future.

“It’s incredible to think our centre has had 10 million conversations, often with people in very difficult circumstances,” said Debra.

“That is testament to the committed and passionate staff we have here at Toowoomba.”