Features: July 28th, 2006

Glasgow Call Centre Managers Gets High Tech Support

Customer service has improved in Glasgow following the opening of Glasgow City Council’s Access Centre. The Council is the local authority for Scotland’s largest city with around 600,000 residents. The City Council currently handles more than 30 million telephone calls each year. An earlier review of its call answering services identified a high number of unanswered calls, with many enquiries being passed from one department to another. Following the review it was decided to create an innovative initiative, Access Glasgow. The aim was to enhance public service delivery and provide the citizens of Glasgow with a range of different access channels.

The Council was concerned that any new technology should make it possible to secure employee ‘buy-in’, because previous projects had resulted in resistance to a change in working processes. Sabio’s Open Wave Workforce Management solution was selected because it offered the best solution for providing flexible, responsive and effective management of the staff who responded to the needs of Glasgow’s citizens. .

Ann Marie Muirhead, Access Centre Manager for Glasgow City Council, takes up the story: “When I joined Glasgow City Council in February 2002, the Access Centre project was already underway. Accommodation had been identified and the City Council had ordered a range of contact centre technology from Siemens – but there was still a lot of work to be done to change these ‘raw materials’ into an integrated, operational Access Centre.

“Having joined from the AA, I was able to bring a different customer service perspective to Glasgow City Council. This came partly from my experience with design and development of the rostering tool that helped assign thousands of AA patrolmen each day, and also in the implementation of a flexible working environment,” she continues.

Bailie Alan Stewart, Glasgow City Council adds: “It was clear that people and processes were going to be as important as the technology in developing the Council’s Access Centre approach. The first thing that the City Council addressed was the introduction of new contracts for Access Centre staff that would allow a move to more flexible hours to support improved citizen access. Ann Marie then began recruiting agents for the Access Centre, with a particular focus on people with strong customer service skills. We now have around 80 staff in place, and eventually could expand to between 300 and 400 staff.”

Given that the Access Centre was expected to process a large part of the City Council’s 20 million calls per year, it was clear that managing resources efficiently would be critical to its success. Ann Marie knew that some form of workforce management solution would be necessary: “I’d previously worked with a number of workforce management tools in the private sector, so I knew what sort of functionality was available.

Getting staff on board and retaining them

One of the key challenges for Ann Marie was to ensure that the Access Centre set the standard for contact centre employment locally. With around 130 call centres operating in the Glasgow area alone, it was essential to give Access Centre staff strong reasons for choosing the City Council above the competition.

“We’ve worked hard to present the Access Centre as a different type of call centre – we pay competitively, we offer all the benefits of public sector employment, and we’re genuinely committed to making the Access Centre a satisfying place to work,” explains Ann Marie. “With the Access Centre we’ve created a facility that really does add value for the people of Glasgow.

“With our Open Wave workforce management solution, we’re determined to give our agents a say in how they manage their own jobs. For example, agents can submit their annual leave requests and either gain automatic or team manager approval, they can arrange shift swaps, and we can produce longer rosters – potentially up to a year if agents need to.”

“We’ve also found that the system is particularly flexible and allows us to experiment more than we originally thought possible. We can now develop individual agent shift patterns, perhaps with half a dozen custom shifts – for example six days on/five days off, or Thursday to Sunday and then evenings,” she continues. “It’s this flexibility which helps improve agent morale and performance, and gives us the platform we need to look beyond basic forecasting and scheduling and really start to optimise our contact centre resources.”

“Since implementing Open Wave we’ve found that agents have been coming to us with their own suggestions for alternative shift patterns. That’s particularly important for us as we’re committed to creating a culture at Glasgow City Council of involvement and flexibility, particularly as we target our agents on service levels rather than the length or volume of calls. Our emphasis is very much on qualitative measures – we record our calls and we have a team of coaches who sit side-by-side with our agents, monitoring and helping where appropriate.

“This has helped us to strike a harmonious work/life balance for agents in the centre, and the results have been staggering. We now have a consistently low rate of attrition at less than two per cent a month – compared with around 22 per cent across the industry. In addition, our sickness and absence rate has dropped from 14 per cent to just 4 per cent post implementation,” Anne Marie adds.

Implementing Open Wave into the Access Centre has enabled the City Council to move to skill-based forecasting to ensure the right resource is available at the right time – while taking into account key staffing factors such as the availability of full/part time agents and seasonal factors that can affect staff requirements.

Better resource planning means that the City Council now delivers a better service to the people of Glasgow. Key improvements have included first time call resolution which is now consistently above 94 per cent, we have increased agent optimisation from 61 per cent to 86 per cent and we are consistently hitting service levels of 80 per cent of calls answered in 15 seconds.

“Glasgow City Council’s key objective is ‘providing a customer-focused central point of contact for Glasgow citizens and the highest possible levels of customer service’. Open Wave and the ongoing support from Sabio consultants helps us to achieve this every hour of every day, ensuring we effectively serve our customers no matter what time they call, or what they call about,” says Anne Marie.

Moving towards multimedia

One of the key reasons Glasgow City Council chose the name Access Centre rather than call centre was its determination to really open up Council operations to the citizens of Glasgow. The Council’s initial research at the start of the access project showed that 75 per cent supported the introduction of a Call Centre, and that 56 per cent of those surveyed would find it convenient to call after 5.00pm. The majority of respondents also indicated that weekend access would be convenient. (source Mori Poll of Glasgow Citizen’s Panel)

“That’s why we designed the Access Centre to provide true multimedia support,” explains Ann Marie. “Currently the bulk of our contacts are primarily telephone, but we’ll be able to support e-mail and fax thanks to our multimedia routing capabilities. We’re also working with Sabio to investigate approaches for blending these multimedia contacts, and will be expanding our capabilities to include webchat and web collaboration and potentially for digital TV as another access tool for our citizens.

“At Glasgow City Council we’ve been thinking about these kind of access issues for some time, and that’s put us in a strong position in terms of developing our electronic services and delivering them. With Open Wave workforce management in place we can look beyond initial call handling to really concentrate on key issues such as improving customer satisfaction and our own performance,” adds Ann Marie.

Building on a strong Workforce Management foundation

A key factor behind the success of the Workforce Management project has been the fact that the Open Wave solution was implemented and is being supported through Sabio’s 35-strong Scottish operation based in the heart of Glasgow. According to Bailie Alan Stewart: “In Open Wave we’ve got a leading workforce management solution backed by an organisation with senior consultants and support staff just minutes away. It certainly makes sense for us to work with a supplier like Sabio who has a local presence. However, we’re also benefiting from Sabio’s extensive experience across all aspects of the contact centre operation, and that’s proving invaluable as we continue with the expansion of our Access Centre.

Ann Marie concludes; “From earlier experience in the private sector, and from working closely with Sabio, we believe that Open Wave will play a key role in ensuring that the Access Centre is staffed by the right number of agents with the right skills at all times. Workforce Management tools are obviously essential in achieving this balance, and Open Wave from Sabio meets our requirements. However, we’re also continually working to ensure that we invest in other areas such as training and quality monitoring to make sure that our people and processes are optimised. Working with Sabio has given us a great start, and we look forward to developing our relationship as the Access Centre project gathers pace”.