South Worcestershire Partnership in conjunction with Civica

Contact Centre

South Worcestershire Partnership and Civica Contact Centre

Digital transformation, service improvements and cost savings at the South Worcestershire Partnership Hub

Location:  South Worcestershire
Client:    Malvern Hills District Council, Wychavon District Council, Worcester City Council and Civica


Midland Comms have had a long association with the three councils, Malvern Hills District Council, Wychavon District Council and Worcester City Council that formed the South Worcestershire Partnership (SWP) Hub, a shared services partnership set up in 2007, that brought together the revenues and benefits, and fraud services of the three councils.  Indeed Midland were there at stage one of it’s development when the councils goal was…

“…to implement a communications platform that would enable more collaboration across the councils, and provide seamless communications between those in the contact centre and those on the road, for both desk-based employees and home workers. We needed a phone system that was integrated into ICT that would enable staff to be more efficient and provide better service to customers.”

That was then. Today both technology and customer expectations have evolved. There are more people wanting access to more services in the SWP Hub catchment area and they also want the flexibility to use the contact methods they use in everyday life to get resolutions faster.

To further scale up service delivery capability and benefit from additional commercial and technology expertise, SWP entered into partnership with Civica, the global outsourcing and managed services experts to run the Customer Service Contact Centre.

Civica retained Midland Comms Telephony and IT expertise and it’s relationship with the SWP to help install and implement the new technology that continues to evolve for Contact Centres.

The success of Midland Comms’ implementation has contributed to an extension of Civica’s original 5 year contract to a 10 year contract and has benefited the SWP Hub with outcomes such as a 40% reduction in call centre telephony volumes by re-routing selected enquiries to online self-service and improved service levels across the board, delivered by approximately 25% fewer staff.

Midland Comms caught up with Paul Appleyard, Customer Service Team Leader, to discuss some of the new technology and how the SWP is using it.

Q & A with Paul:

Q: Historically Call Centres have just been about handling phone calls to answer questions/solve problems. Where are you today?

A: When I started in 2010 it was all about telephony with a little bit of email, dealing with sometimes lengthy calls from start to finish, across all service areas, and then still passing it on to the respective service area if you couldn’t resolve an issue. Within a year or so we started to see customers become more tech savvy. This allowed certain service areas to present more services online, knowing our customers were ready for the transition. So, for example School Admissions were able to provide self service online forms, which had a 99% take-up. This gave us the confidence to move with the times and produce more online content and explore other channels across services.

More recently, since the Civica takeover in 2017 we have seen a 40% reduction in calls as part of the Digital Transformation plan that is in place, designed to be fully implemented by 2020.

For example, a customer may come through initially to report a missed bin collection, but once they have been told there is an online way to report this and they will have the ability then to track the response through or be informed electronically, that’s when the emphasis switches to those other channels, driven by the customers prevalence towards new methods.

Now we have those functions for every service across the Worcestershire Hub, whether it is School Transport, Registrations, Libraries – any service – as long as the customer has access to online. For example they can report a pothole problem, they will then receive a reference number and get follow-up  progress reports from engineers and timescales for repair. This is a Channel choice offered to the customer with a very good take-up.

We also trialled for 12 months and have now fully introduced Web-chat. We are getting around 600 Web-chats a month, which will continue to grow as we add more and more services as Web-chat capable. We also find that a customer service person can handle 3 Web-chat conversations at a time efficiently, which, naturally means it is quicker than a phone call. It’s just a different way of working – it still provides a first class service to the customer.

As we increase channels, email, online, Web-chat we reduce Telephony demand and are able to increase services overall on the SWP Hub.

Q: What was the plan to reach this stage?

A: We are working to a Digital Transformation Plan, determining where the technology could best serve the customer. We looked first at services where a telephone conversation added little or no actual value to the customer.

For example, if a customer calls to contest a Parking Penalty Notice, we would only be able to direct them to an online or written Appeal process. Now we can use IVR call scripts and options to guide them to the same outcome. This reduces customer frustration and gives them access to the full trackable response. This means our Customer Service Agents are available to deal with more complex matters such as Housing or Welfare Assistance, and more potentially vulnerable customers, as and when they are needed.

You do need to look at each area and put this criteria of low added value verses high added value against them.

You find you are then devoting more time to more vulnerable customers, and spending more time ensuring they get the help they need.

For example we help handle the Blue Badge applications, where you typically have a demographic os over 70’s, not as likely to have the online access, and where 50% is still paper based applications. You can the help with the questions that may crop up with the completion of the form on the phone because you have already freed up that time by diverting the low value interactions.

Q: How Easy is Call Scripting For The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system?

A: It’s quite a simple process. We first produce a map of how each type of query relates to each service and ensure the options presented get the caller to the right area quickly.

We have an IT department that produces the script and we run an X Factor style “Voice of the Hub” competition to find the best voice from within our own team!

Q: Are you utilising everything in the Mitel MiContact Contact Centre?

A: We used to use a Cisco system which was clunky and gave us limited information on the wallboards and we had to use spreadsheets and do manual calculations to find out things like Average Call Times, Productivity, etc.

With the help of Midland Comms we now have everything we need at this point in our plan. Both as Managers and Advisors.

As Advisors we can see Calls Offered, Calls Waiting, Longest Waiting on very visible live Wallboards and also advisors will know the service area knowledge need. The IVR path will say it is, for example a Library call, and the Advisor will know this and be in their Library Information pages before they answer the call.

Breaks and lunches are also shown and, along with Calls Waiting, this has helped produce a self-regulating culture within the team to ensure best service to the customer, where an Advisor will delay the start of a break to help bring down the calls waiting numbers first.

We also have complete ‘Real Time’ ability to monitor and report on all service levels statistics. Each Advisor can get individual reports and each service area gets overall service level reports to whatever criteria they require. Any service can ask for a Historical report on any aspect, such as call volumes, calls received, calls answered over the last two years for example, and I can produce that report from the system within 30 seconds.

For the Advisors we run Weekly confidential reports which can cover average handling time, adherence to login/log off time, breaks and lunches and after call work. We combine this into Monthly reports and also use the stats when discussing objectives and appraisals.

We can also drill down any report to look at the usage of individual channels, even to see how many channels a particular customer uses.

Q: Do you utilise Call Recording?

A: Yes, I use it mainly for Quality Monitoring – to listen and evaluate Advisors across a random selection of short or long calls across different services.

If a Service Area does need to listen to a call, just to get that bit more information, we can search by Time Stamp, date or phone number and send it on. It’s a very intuitive utility.

It is also a big part of training and coaching, good for new starters or Advisors on a new service. Along with Live call monitoring Its allows me instant feedback and instant coaching.

I will also keep good calls by an Advisor and ask if I can share it with the rest of the team. Then you show the team what a good call looks like from start to finish and show where it hits the quality monitoring criteria, a warm welcome, realistic expectations, timescales, explanation of the process, etc. It’s a really good tool.

Q: We have discussed Channel Choice. What happens when a Query starts on one channel and moves to another channel?

A: If we take the scenario of someone new to the area. They may move in and not have their Broadband in place and may make contact to say, organise a Refuse Bin but also enquire about Schools Admissions. Our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is intelligent enough to handle this. The call can be Tagged, this is part of the Mitel system, to show it is both a Refuse and Waste and a Schools Admission query. If they follow up, say four days laters using Web-Chat to chase the Bin arrival, it will not cause the CRM a problem. Also they will now be part of the online process that gives them feedback and timescales, and if they ask for it, they can also have access to transcripts from Web-Chat or Email.

Q: What Aren’t You Using Yet?

A: We have been careful to work with Jayne at Midland Comms for guidance and ensure we bed in each element. Next in our DT Roadmap we are looking to introduce a trial of Call Backs to both the SWP Hub and the Revenues and Benefits section.

This will allow a customer using the phone as their channel to be told where they are in a call queue and they can then choose to wait or they will be able to request a call-back. That call-back request will then be fed into the same CRM system as used for Email and Web-Chat and when an Advisor finished a call and is ‘Idle” they can make that call-back. That is another positive from the system.

We are also bringing in live the Customer Satisfaction element of the platform to give us feedback on how well a query has been handled.

We have this within email but the take-up numbers are quite low and can be a delayed response. Within the system we will trial an IVR announcement telling customers to stay on the call at the end to give feedback. This will take the form of maybe 3 very short questions. How was the call handled.? Was there a resolution? Rate the call 1 to 10. With the option to leave further feedback. This will be interesting to see if this increases the volume of Customer Satisfaction feedback and also the fact that it will be ‘instant’ feedback will be useful.

At the moment individual councils are using Twitter or Facebook for general notifications, such as snow problems, school closures etc. For now we are using Emergency scripts on the IVR to cover these kind of eventualities, but using social media more in the future is in the DT plan.

Q: Any Suggestions for Best Practise?

Work with Midland Comms and develop a plan. If possible bring the elements in in stages.

The phone system Midland Comms implemented as part of the platform was easy to use in terms of how to hold a call, transfer a call, call tagging, etc and this was invaluable at the beginning in allowing us to be up and running straight away. Obviously get the telephony running first. The platform comes with the information rich Wallboards and the Call Recording is optional but highly recommended. Then we looked at being comfortable with the full range of Reporting the system offers. We added the Email in short time, which is very user friendly, like using Outlook but with the ability to log and track within the CRM.

Producing online self services forms should be part of your overall ICT strategy.

For us we added the Web-Chat later, on a 12 month trail basis initially, before rolling out across all services.

The roadmap within our Digital Transformation Plan with Jayne at Midland Comms is taking us through Call Back and Customer Satisfaction next.

There is always an element of educating the customer to the benefits of other channels to plan in if you want to be successful. That helped us reach our 40% reduction in incoming phone calls 12 months early.

Thanks Paul.

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