One recent survey found that 'about two thirds of customer relationship management projects fail. The trick is not merely to cut costs, but also to retain old fashioned values of customer service'.
Today, our customers contact us or we contact them 2.3 million times a day. That is an incredible 1,500 times a minute! This is the story of how we manage our customer base in BT Retail - all 21 million of them...
Our business has changed dramatically in the past decade. We've gone from a PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) regionally based business with few competitors, a relatively uncomplicated product set and pretty straightforward call routing, to a world in which customer expectations are constantly rising. Our past has also reflected a lack of attention to the customer experience and high transaction costs.
Now that the Internet rules, products are becoming increasingly complex and intense competition is the order of the day. At the same time, customers want (or need) to interact in a much simpler way. Their satisfaction is therefore much harder to earn. There is also more complexity to contact routing. Even though there are more automated transactions to provide a self-service route and our costs have come down, they are still too high.
All of this has meant a radical rethink of the way we manage our customer relationships through our contact centres - no small undertaking, given the scope and scale of our call centre operations.
Consider the infrastructure and resource required to support 2.3 million calls per day. While the bulk of these transactions are handled in our operator and directory enquiry operations, more than half a million is service related; bill enquiries, order handling general enquiries. We operate 119 call centres, comprising 14,000 workstations and employ 16,553 people to handle those 1,500 calls per minute - easily the largest operation of its kind in the UK and indeed Europe.
We needed to transform our customer contact capability in order to address much higher customer expectations in an environment of increasingly complex transactions. This was the result of our product set evolution, the advent of the Internet and the changing nature of how and why customers need to interact. At the same time, pressure to reduce our bloated cost base put even more pressure on maintaining easy access and contactability.
Where to start? We implemented an integrated approach that gave us a 360-degree view of the issues and opportunities. This work consisted of customer research - listening, analysing and responding; as well as employee forums designed to systematically collect the observations, feelings and suggestions of our people.
Based on our findings associated with key customer service processes, practices and procedures, we benchmarked against other world-class call centre operations to quantify the gap between our performance and the 'art of the possible', and shaped our plans around delivering the best.
We were rewarded for our efforts. The results we created were significant and indicative of size of the prize, if we pursued our objectives in a systematic and integrated manner. Most significant was the dramatic reduction in repeat calls; the most damning evidence that we weren't getting it right the first time and the most wasteful in terms of cost.
The 35 per cent reduction in repeat calls, together with a dramatic boost in efficient call routing and resource management, enabled us to reduce our service costs as a percentage of revenue by 13 per cent, largely based on the reduction of more than 2,400 people. In the same period, we maintained and in some cases bettered customer satisfaction results.
How did we accomplish this? Through Five Key Steps to call centre operations transformation:
- Heeding the voice of the customer
- Excellence in call routing
- Optimising resource management
- Equipping our people
- Integrating performance management
Step 1: Heeding the voice of the customer
Customers expect to reach us quickly and easily. Frankly, they did not think we were accessible enough. Between the complexities of call steering, cumbersome automation transactions providing self-service and inconsistent wait times to speak to agents, the message was clear.
Getting customers to the right agent in an acceptable time was not meeting customer expectations in general terms. Moreover, once customers reached an agent, we were horrified to discover huge differences in satisfaction with the experience.
For example, one particular agent generated 52 per cent dissatisfaction with his customers versus another agent in the same role and circumstance who achieved 100 per cent satisfied customers. The need for a comprehensive approach to change was obvious.
Step 2: Excellence in call routing
As assessment of our network and our call steering - automated call distribution (ACD) and intelligent voice recognition (IVR) - systems enabled us to identify the root cause of transfers, abandoned calls and customer frustrations. We undertook a major programme that resulted in the 'flattening' of the network ACD. This ensured that calls were distributed to the right agent equitably and smoothed our PCA performance, which also improved by as much as 10 per cent.
We increased the capability and consistency of our IVR platforms, resulting in a much reduced hold time in IVR and much clearer instructions. For example, our residential repair IVR hold time went from 54 seconds to 36 seconds, and focus group feedback on the new dialogue was excellent. We also centralised the control of IVR technology with regard to standards and change procedures, ensuring consistency of experience and control over enhancements and additions.
Over time, we had built up considerable Freefone 0800 number accesses and many specialist queues to accommodate a variety of new products, services and, in some cases, compliance requirements. We began the process of rationalising 'points of entry'; the access numbers customers use, based on the nature of the enquiry. That enabled us to remove 4,000 Freefone numbers, greatly simplify the work of the IVR platforms and lead to the launch of a programme to rationalise operations. For example, we moved business and residential repair onto the DMS 100 platform, allowing dynamic call management between the two areas to support PCA performance.
Over the past 5 years, we had managed a fairly aggressive programme of automating simple transactions - from Pay My Bill and Friends & Family number changes, to reporting a fault. The primary objective here was to improve efficiency. However, our research revealed an imbalance in customer satisfaction with automation, leading us to impose the same rigid standards to self-serve interactions as to agent-handled interactions. Equally, self-service can generate high levels of customer satisfaction. However, the prompt availability of agent assistance is critical.
Step 3: Optimising resource management
With more than 18,000 people, you would not expect agent availability to be an issue. However, excellent resource management is absolutely critical to optimising efficient and effective performance. Following a full review of end-to-end resource management, including forecasting, recruitment, scheduling and traffic management, we launched a complete overhaul of systems and processes, starting with the standardisation of a scheduling and the negotiation of a global licence that resulted in a saving of GBP 700,000 on the purchase price and a 25 per cent reduction on maintenance costs.
The scheduling system performance dramatically improved as a result of the reduction in the number of complexity of shift patterns and the introduction of schedule adherence as part of integrated performance management. For example, we cut 2,000 shifts to 270 in residential helpdesk sales and billing, saving about 300 people, while driving schedule adherence from an average of 60 per cent to 90 per cent across sales and service.
Most importantly, we involved our people in the sensitive subject of scheduling, as the personal implications of change were significant.
Non-call work (i.e. work that cannot be done online) was managed as part of the online operation. We unbundled non-call activities and dedicated resources to handle what, in some instances, were complex tasks.
We applied standard performance measures, root cause analysis methodology and a mechanism for feeding back errors to online agents. This resulted in a reduction in non-call work items from more than 100,000, to 20,000 in a matter of weeks.
Complaints that are not resolved online are a special category of non-call work. We reduced the volume of outstanding complaints by more than 80 per cent and initiated the restructure of complaint handling into centres of excellence, acknowledging the specialist skills required to effectively deal with sensitive situations.
Step 4: Equipping our people
While we had recognised the need to have the right skilled, knowledgeable and experienced people to work with our customers, we had not taken a holistic approach to the recruiting, training, managing and rewarding processes that would 'hard wire' customer centric people practices into our business.
We reviewed all job descriptions to define each job's purpose, objectives and customer centric behaviours, supported by clearly linked measures. We developed and expanded training based on the new profile and ensured development activities were relevant to each role. We recast the entire recruitment process for BT and agency people, ensuring alignment with the new purpose objectives and behaviour requirements, as well as between BT and our agency partners.
Today, every month we survey a random sample of our people to ensure we have a clear understanding of the degree to which they feel equipped to do their jobs. We call it the Confidence Index, and it comprises both qualitative and quantitative measures. The results have been very encouraging in terms of what we are doing well, and in providing guidance around areas for improvement.
Step 5: Integrating performance management
The most important step in tying all the elements of call centre practice together is integrated performance management. It is essential that the voice of the customer and agent availability and effectiveness are measured in a consistent and balanced manner.
We established comprehensive reporting, which included all call centre industry standard KPIs called Business at a Glance (BAAG), for all levels of call centre operations. The new performance management model introduced a balanced approach to budget control and resourcing, productivity, quality and, where applicable, sales performance - all were totally integrated with My Job objectives.
While we have an unparalleled customer contact capability that has benefited from the transformation we have undertaken, we know we have much more to accomplish.
We need to continue implementation of the Five Steps to Transformation across all of our call centre operations. We need to further rationalise our operations and the number of sites we operate, at the same time as we create a common front-end system to ensure we reap the rewards of new technology.
We then need to leverage our considerable scale to manage peaks and spikes in demand through a highly disciplined contingency management system. In addition, we need to deliver a much stronger, more consistent customer experience that reflects our service credo:
- We are easy to do business with
- We care
- We keep our promises
- If we fail to keep our promises, recovery is our number one priority