Putting the customer first

John Maynard Keynes once said: “The difficulty lies not in new ideas, but in escaping the old ones.” The value of new ideas was certainly evident in last month’s Contact Centre Innovation Awards and it was heartening to see the public sector winning two innovation awards for the first time, as the eyes of customer contact professionals were drawn to public sector initiatives that deliver efficiency by putting the customer at the heart of service transformation.

Understanding the cause of contact

The prestigious Public Sector Innovation Award was won by Harrow for an outstanding initiative that transformed rubbish collection, the number one source of customer complaint. “If you don’t collect someone’s bin it is possibly the worst thing you can do…this is one service that everybody receives from the council,” explains Councillor Paul Osborn.
Harrow Council has shown what can be done when organisations understand the root cause of customer contact and target investment on genuinely transforming services. Customer journey mapping enabled a business case for investment, on the basis of cashable savings, in technology on board refuse trucks. This provides real-time information from the refuse collectors, which is used in the call centre and on the website to respond to residents in ways that instantly resolve their queries, support the council in changing understanding of recycling and help to plan the service differently.  
Harrow’s investment in live wireless data capture has saved money and transformed the customer experience.  Overall savings are put at £90,000 a year and having this information available in the contact centre means that 95 per cent of these enquiries are now solved at the first contact, against fewer than five per cent in the past, while avoidable contacts have fallen by 100 calls a week. “We have much happier customers and much shorter calls,” sums up Carol Cutler, director of business transformation and customer service at Harrow Council.

Handling more calls

The award for Integrated Planning was secured by HM Revenue & Customs who handled almost one million more calls than the previous year and cut busy messages by 80 per cent during the annual Tax Credit renewal period when incoming calls rise over 600 per cent above the norm.
“I am truly pleased for all involved in this project as delivering an acceptable service given such a massive uplift in demand was a huge challenge. The HMRC has learnt from past experiences and has put measures in place by working across all areas of their vast organisation in a joined up and methodical way,” enthuses Dave Vernon, head of best practice at the Professional Planning Forum. “Moreover, the people have not been lost in this and the enthusiasm shown by the employees to deliver excellent service to the customers was incredible.”          

By working with stakeholders from across the business and analysing performance in the previous year, plans were set up to shift demand, cross-skill advisors and start outbound calling, rather than just recruiting for the peak. IVR messaging was developed, a contingency team of 1,000 advisors cross-trained and a 27-day outbound campaign exceeded all expectation, making over 50,000 contacts, 20,000 more than predicted.
“The big message was to renew early and that campaign was successful…we got together the back office, the front office and marketing,” explained Vicky Passant, demand control manager at HMRC. “This success is down to effective planning and collaborative working,” endorsed John Terry, regional manager, contact centres

Showcasing innovations
The Contact Centre Innovation Awards are organised by the Professional Planning Forum. They celebrate the achievements of the industry’s innovators, offer a benchmark of excellence and showcase innovations that are transforming the experience of customers.  
The winners were selected by a team of judges who visited each of the 17 shortlisted organisations, and then assessed them against a strict set of criteria. “Every year the process of judging gets harder…each year we see new exciting innovations that make you proud to be part of the industry,” comments Steve Woosey, the Planning Forum’s membership director.
These awards were presented at the Planning Forum’s 10th anniversary conference in London on 20 April, with other prizes being taken by Netflights, Shop Direct, Ventura and Scottish Power. With over 500 delegates at the conference events, including the Public Sector Transformation Forum, the gathering continues to be a key event in Contact Centre’s managers’ diaries.
Delegates were able to listen to all organisations on the award shortlist and attend a wide range of workshops, round tables and presentations and keynote sessions, with speakers representing HM Revenue & Customers, Harrow Council, Glasgow City Council and Northants Police – as well as leading private sector innovators such as Aviva, Orange, British Gas and Scottish Power.  
Joanne Leach, from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, speaks for many when she comments that the most useful part was meeting colleagues from other organisations. Nicky Haynes, from Thames Valley Police, sums up a lot of reaction to the speakers: “Very engaging and inspirational. It drove the importance of customer experience.” With proven success stories and the willingness to learn, the public sector has a real opportunity to respond to the demand for efficiencies with a genuinely customer-focused approach.

For more information
Tel: 0333 123 5960
E-mail: paul.smedley@planningforum.co.uk

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