Putting the customer first

National targets and the changing economy are increasing the pressure on managers to improve customer service at a lower cost. With this in mind, conference speakers at April’s Contact Centre Planning Conference showcased outstanding work by the public sector, which breaks the mould in introducing new working practices to make life simpler and better for citizens – usually at a lower cost to boot. 

Award winners
Thames Valley Police gained the prestigious Public Sector Innovation Award for introducing a revolutionary new shift pattern in a highly unionised environment called Primetime, which changed long-established work schedules, raising service levels by ten per cent and dropping overtime budgets by 30 per cent, while simultaneously reducing pressure on employees at busy periods.
“There has been a marked change with the introduction of Primetime. We’ve reduced overtime spend and yet we’re performing better than ever before,” comments Liam Macdougall, head of department. 
Tracy Burfitt-Shaw, resource and planning manager, goes on to explain: “We can individualise people’s shift patterns now. So if someone wants to attend night school we can put rules into the system to accommodate their requirements.”

Improving service
Introducing Primetime generated a significant budget saving in the police enquiry centres (PECs) and took service levels from 84.9 per cent to 93.4 per cent on non-emergency calls. Implemented after full consultation, the Primetime contracts apply to new police staff and volunteers; they offer schedule flexibility to better match customer demand and provide for longer working weeks in the summer. There has also been a big impact on people; individual preferences can be taken account of and hours lost to sickness by Primetime staff are half that of operators working fixed rotational shifts.
“What stood out for me was how Thames Valley Police not only managed to introduce this new shift pattern in an area with strongly established traditional working arrangements, but also went out of their way to get buy-in from union representatives,” observes Trish Lincoln, external judge and head of Operational Support Services for the Central Communications Command at the Metropolitan Police. “Other unionised call centres could learn from this approach.”

Maximising resources
Better use of resources to drive improvements to the customer was a strong recurrent theme with the other entries that made it through the tough criteria onto the shortlist.
At Haringey Council, Kevin Gibbs, assistant director of Access and Customer Focus, is proud that last year they achieved their highest performance at their lowest cost, with service levels up from 57 per cent to 78 per cent at the same time as a 9 per cent reduction in staffing and annual budget savings of £495,000. So how did they do it?
“We’ve got the same people, pretty much the same technology; what we have done is to change the mindset,” he explains. The changes in the contact centre empowered staff and managers to be more accountable for individual and team performance. 
At Jobcentre Plus, Julie Collins, people and culture team manager in the Contact Centre Directorate, talks about how they transformed customer service by developing a consistent operating model that brought 6,000+ agents in 31 contact centres into a single virtual contact centre operation. The result has been benefit payments accelerated by 1.5 days for Jobseeker’s Allowance, 28 per cent fewer inappropriate calls and an increase in customer satisfaction by 10 percentage points. 
“The civil service sometimes has a reputation for being a little conservative… that all went out of the window,” she explains. “We created something new and refreshing.” 
At Stockton Borough Council, the call centre was created as part of a wider customer first and access strategy that genuinely puts the customer at the heart of process, technology and people strategies. The real success measure of the strategy is its wider impact in making life easier for citizens, reducing their need to contact the council by a massive 20 per cent in just two years. 

Sharing best practice
The innovation awards were presented as part of the Professional Planning Forum’s annual conference for the contact centre industry. With a recession-beating 10 per cent increase in delegates on last year, it has certainly proven that it continues to be a key event in contact centre 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 The Cabinet Office, Surrey County Council, Salford Council and Liverpool Council – as well as leading private sector innovators such as Orange, British Gas, Vodafone and Coventry Building Society. Hot topics included workshops on first contact resolution and employee attrition as well as contact avoidance and customer experience. 
In between sessions, there was time to check out the exhibition area, where many delegates took the opportunity to see what was new, and pick the brains of their existing suppliers with queries and development ideas. There was even time for extra-curricula activities as well, with an enjoyable casino networking night at the close of the first day and the gala dinner attended by over 300 guests to celebrate success.
Sharon Ryder at Worcestershire County Council speaks for many when she comments: “The most useful part was learning from others and seeing the innovation that there is in the industry.”
Elizabeth Amartey from Kent County Council sums it up: “I really enjoyed the keynote speakers and the great sessions … a lot of new ideas I will take away.” 
With proven success stories and the willingness to learn, the public sector has certainly come of age within the contact centre industry.

About the Professional Planning Forum
As the independent industry body promoting effective resourcing and planning in the contact centre industry, we are supplier-independent and work across all industry sectors to provide specialist support for contact centre professionals who take resource planning seriously.

Our aims are to:

  • Promote best practice through research, site visits and networking
  • Help your in-house support teams develop, by providing professional training and certification for analysts and specialists in these areas
  • Establish better understanding and recognition within the industry of the role and contribution of planners.
  • Offer year-round advice and support for members of the Planning Forum.

Planning and MI are complex and specialist skills, which have become fundamental to the success of today’s contact centres. Yet many organisations still expect analysts to learn the role with no formal training or accreditation and with few opportunities to share experience with other centres.
The Forum’s programmes offer expert training and support, so that you get the results you require. We offer networking and best practice events to learn from what works in other centres.
Our expert team of planning specialists, share between them over 50 years of call centre and planning experience. Why not use our breadth of experience to help you stimulate improvements in your own centre?

For more information
Dave Vernon leads the public sector workstream at the Professional Planning Forum. He can be contacted at dave.vernon@planningforum.co.uk or on 0333 123 5960.

Visit www.planningforum.co.uk for a copy of our full 2009 best practice guide and information on the next two public seminars on 18 June (at Stockton-on-Tees council) and 2 July (at the London Borough of Haringey). Alternatively call 0333 123 59 60. 

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