People-focused contact

Customer contact centres have not stood still over the last decade or so; far from it. While some are still the cause of frustration, the work done to improve the end-to-end customer journey has transformed the customer experience in many cases. For the millions of people who either contact or are contacted by centres, this is a good result.
   
The Forum, a champion of best practice and professional development in customer contact, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Widely recognised as an innovative, inclusive and independent community of professionals, our aim is to stimulate collaboration, continual learning and customer focus in the industry.
   
One of the ways we do this, is through our Innovation Awards programme, which is rigorously judged with visits to each finalist. In this article, I want to show how two of our recent finalists have risen to the customer challenge, and achieved great results where it matters, both in their workplace and with their customers. They have been asked to speed up, do more with less or deliver a result that has never been achieved before in customer operations. They are addressing the twin challenges of sustainable improvement and responsiveness to a fast changing market in an Omni-channel world.

NHS business service authority
The first case study is a great example of an enterprise wide initiative, which resulted in a 10 per cent improvement in turnaround time and delivered 11 per cent cost savings in the back office for patient services at the NHS Business Service Authority.
   
Building on established success in the contact centre, the planning team extended their existing planning principles and systems to the back office environment starting with patient services. This involved a new communications strategy, more effective utilisation of existing resources and implementing a robust planning strategy. The innovation was in how they brought this initiative together and took everyone with them.  
   
Andrena Lauder, service delivery manager, explained: “They understand the business now, it’s a massive step forward. It’s stopped that silo mentality.”
   
The new communication strategy was vital in changing the culture. They had to address the fact that 50 per cent of the workforce had worked in the role for more than 20 years and that it takes over 12 months to reach full competency. A clear strategy engaged processors, managers and other stakeholders in focus groups, working parties and question and answer sessions with senior management.
   
Introducing planning and workforce management (WFM) in the back office resulted in far better utilisation of the existing workforce. Like many public services, the drive for cost efficiency and accountability is a major catalyst for change; this was a massive priority for both the contact centre and patient services managers. Robust plans and MI were set up and they centralised annual leave, shrinkage and time recording, freeing up team managers’ time and creating resource flexibility across departments to manage volatility.
   
Customer applications are now processed quicker, with applications per hour up ten per cent, and flexibility between back office and contact centre people has made the organisation much more agile and responsive.

Planning was successfully established in three back office areas, by carefully mapping the traditional planning process of a contact centre and identifying what would be of most benefit.

These planning fundamentals gave visibility and control of back office work for the first time. Working closely with Patient Services management the team were able to understand and appreciate making the right changes to working practices was crucial, whilst balancing this with considering the impact to staff. For example, they avoided completely removing flexi-time and centralising annual leave was a very popular development.
   
Utilisation of experienced staff to cross‑skill was another major step, so that these subject matter experts from the back office could assist with inbound work at peak times, and the other way round.
   
Mark Dobson, patient services manager, said: “What’s been really successful is sharing resources between the two areas. People have got used to not just working in one area, it’s part of the job now.”
   
“Minds have changed” concluded David Roberts, contact centre services manager, which must be the ultimate accolade for a successful innovation that has delivered outstanding results and stuck.

People-focused innovation
While not in the public service, the second case is another great example of a more people focused innovation resulting in major advances for both customers and the organisation. Aviva UK Health invested significantly in developing and empowering their people which has contributed towards a significant increase in profitability.
   
It started with a clear vision set out by the new claims and operation director. He set out to invest in developing people: asking people to take responsibility and providing the support they need and in return driving customer satisfaction and shareholder return. Employee surveys had given a clear message about the need for more opportunities to develop, progress and grow, but, because of the tough financial pressures, he first created a culture of collaborative working focussed on the shared purpose of achieving efficiencies, such as process improvement and first contact resolution.

These efficiencies were then re-invested in the new Continual Learning Programme (CLP), a user-friendly toolkit that offers learning in variable bite-sized pieces.

Designed and implemented by the operational development team, this isn’t about a technical advancement, it’s the result of cooperation between teams that made it such an effective resource.

Crucially, the way the CLP was created has made it what it is, powerfully supporting a shift in culture and engendering deep trust. Everyone was involved – from the Chief Medical Officer to performance managers, to claims assessors – and ops development tested this back intensively before pulling it together in a CLP vision.
   
For example, the planning team influenced the focus in CLP on ‘bite sized chunks’, a key success factor in consistently delivering the training time to every advisor on every shift, and KPIs were changed to focus on quality, stripping away other potential blockages to learning and improvement. Likewise, assessors and clinical specialists shaped the content, so it helps assessors deal with more enquiries better, first time – so that learning deepens the service provided for customers as well as helping people feel they can realise their full potential.
   
As Andrew Watkinson, claims and operations director explained: “It became clear to me the only way to make a breakthrough was to build the people capability to own a lot more of the customer journey, not to hand off the customer. We were only accessing 50 per cent of people’s potential, now we are above the 80 per cent mark because we are doing more for the customer.”

Another win for innovation and the customer.

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