- Navigated COVID workforce changes and increased demand
- Automated responses to routine enquiries
- Web Assistant answers 78% of interactions
- Reduced pressure on council customer services team
- Advisors work on multiple engagement channels – reducing the risk of bore-out
- Handle greater volumes of calls
- Improved citizen experience
A digital future
Blackburn with Darwen (BWD) is a local authority in the north west of England, with a diverse, multicultural community, where 30% of the borough are under 25 and 25% are over 80 years old.
BWD has been a customer of Netcall since 2011. Using our contact centre solution, Liberty Converse, they made substantial savings each year when they first introduced email and webchat. The call routing in Converse also cut the long Monday morning waiting times, reducing stress for both citizens and council staff.
COVID brought greater demand and changes in workforce needs, but no more resources. It could have meant doing less for their customers, but Customer Services Manager, Ross McQueen, was not going to accept that, or allow his teams to be put under more pressure. He wanted to do more for the citizens and provide better CX.
The shape of customer demand also changed with COVID. People wanted less face-to-face contact and became willing to do more online.
During the lockdowns, some of our centres were closed for face-to-face interactions but there were more calls and we saw a 300% increase in demand for web and chat activity.
Ross McQueen – Customer Services Manager
Handle greater volumes of enquiries
The key to the transformation was understanding where the customer experience was poor and what caused the friction. For example, stats from Liberty Converse showed that a routine call about a missed bin took four minutes to resolve. However, if advisors had the right information in front of them, the call length could be reduced to one minute.
BWD took an innovative approach using Converse’s voice forms – similar to a voicemail but with prompts for full details to a specific issue. This allowed for 24/7 information gathering from callers and improved the quality of information presented to advisors, enabling them to fully deal with the request.
BWD also used Converse to offer a call back at a time convenient for the customer. The voice forms and call back capabilities were invaluable for managing call volumes, smoothing peaks both internally and externally, particularly at lunchtimes when staff needed a break but customers tend to call.
It was also good that NHS callers and the Council’s other third sector partners did not have to queue to talk to Social Services. They could go online and request a call back where they had sensitive and complex issues to address.
It’s gone down really well – 99% of the feedback is extremely positive because we can call them back within a couple of hours so our customers are very happy.
Web Assistant: Activating the Web
BWD uncovered further opportunities, to advance customer enquiries and free up advisor time. Using the Liberty Connect Web Assistant – which enables the chatbot sit on a webpage – BWD activated the potential in their website to handle customer queries across the entire day. This is a neat way to automate responses to routine enquires and signpost enquires to the right department.
So, a missed bin collection is a simple issue that can be sorted out on a Sunday evening instead of the caller ringing first thing on Monday morning – when the contact centre is at its busiest. Web Assistant now answers 78% of the interactions – getting citizens to effective answers quickly.
This has a knock on effect of getting the remaining 22% of callers, with the more complex questions, like planning queries and school admissions, to in-person support quickly. This represents a clear and substantial increase in capacity.
Changing how the team work
In the past, BWD trained contact centre agents on certain services, such as housing, benefits and so on. Now, Ross has evolved this to accommodate the changing way that citizens expect to engage with the authority and where the expertise lies within the organisation.
Alongside service skills, advisors are trained and grouped based on engagement channels – voice, email, chat. Tasks are rotated between the advisors, which breaks up the routine and reduces the risk of burn out / bore out.
This uncovered some unexpected benefits:
- Younger staff have stimulated new, less formal interactions across the new digital channels
- BWD are ensuring easy and effective ways for each demographic in their borough to access the Council services
- Tasks are rotated between the advisors, which breaks up the routine, keeps people’s energy levels up
Handling demand and reducing pressure on staff
Handling new services, and new demand in new ways, increased pressure on staff all across the organisation.
Take, for example, the leisure centre reception staff, who can have face-to-face customers queuing and phones ringing at the same time. Ross has extended the Connect and Converse deployment to help route calls away from the front desk at peak times.
Analysis using the reporting functionality shows the nature of incoming calls and enabled BWD to add extra information to the website. This further reduced new customer enquiries. The nature of customer calls is gradually changing staff roles. They are no longer just receptionists, they are becoming customer service advisors.
As customer behaviour continues to change, BWD is reviewing its face-to-face services.
- Reporting functionality helps identify issues and react accordingly
- Staff roles are changing – from receptionists to customer service advisors
- Benefits from aligning digital and face-to-face services across one platform
- Technology helps BWD enhance their frontline services further
What more can we do?
BWD’s first investment with the Liberty Platform proved the value of smart technology. Now Netcall is empowering the customer services team to take ownership of changes they can make themselves, bringing more control to Ross and his team.
By leveraging activity codes and qualitative data from Liberty Converse, the team can identify areas for enhanced training.
And customer experience is soaring.
This is something other authorities will need to do. Customers just want an answer – they don’t want to be read a script. We route their calls directly to the department and provide a comfort message. This makes sense because our team are professionals, not just call centre agents. However, you still need discipline on how well a call is handled – how soon it is answered, and the nature of the call – and the system allows us to manage this.
In future, Blackburn with Darwen will gather more feedback from residents to provide input into their service design. Their Liberty Platform has allowed them to handle greater volumes of calls and also focus on exactly what customers are asking for.