Meeting Customer Needs through a Customer Service Centre

"Emergencies always happen outside office hours!" thought Dave as he called ECHG's 24-Hour customer service centre. Arriving home from the late shift, he found water pouring through the ceiling. The customer service adviser diagnosed that a pipe to his hot water cylinder was leaking, told him how to find the stopcock and turn the water off, and to avoid electric sockets and switches until a contractor arrived in two hours. "Normally, I would be thumbing through the phone book for an emergency plumber but, thanks to the CSC, one call to a technically trained adviser and the matter is in hand."

Another satisfied customer of ECHG Services' customer service centre (CSC) which uses the latest contact centre technology to provide a 24-hour service, 365 days a year.

Delivering high quality services through a single point of contact is a Best Value solution that links customer needs with professional services, covering property maintenance and repair, rent accounting, arrears management and debt & benefit advice. The CSC can be contacted by telephone, fax, and email or via the internet at any time of the day or night. This was the first housing contact centre awarded the RNID's Louder than Words award for service provision to the hard of hearing. The contract centre staff are also able to provide translation services in seven different languages, including Russian, and this is supplemented by the use of Language Line which provides translations in up to 100 community languages, ensuring equal access for all tenants.

Set up in 1998 and now handling over 250,000 contracts each year, two thirds of these by more traditional methods of telephone contact. Although still relatively small, there is an ever-increasing trend toward e-mail and Web communications from customers. With a single point of contact, customers can make enquiries about rent or benefit entitlement, request repairs or apply for property. By dealing with the majority of day to day enquiries the CSC has freed up local staff to spend more time supporting customers with more pressing issues.

In order to ensure effective management of customer contact the CSC continually reviews its process and use of technology. It listens carefully to customer feedback and to what is happening inside and outside of its own industry in order to anticipate customer needs and keep ahead of the game. There is a true commitment to the use of technology but only where this is appropriate and where it brings about an improvement to customer service.

"Our work with Comino in developing the Workflow system is a clear illustration of this," explained Jacqui Johnson, Operations Manager. "Soon after setting up the operation it became apparent that our housing system as it stood did not fully support the needs of a contact centre environment. The stages were too many and too complex to complete a transaction while the customer was on the line: and time is paramount. Together we were able to pioneer a new approach which superimposed a workflow system to simplify the transaction with the customer based front screen, and information is transferred to and from the system. This made it much easier and quicker to use improving the service to our customers and the effectiveness of our advisers."

The screens were built to guide the advisors step by step through the necessary processes. Included in the development is a workflow facility which enables work to be allocated electronically to the most suitable adviser and tracked to completion. Workflow is also used to control the spend on repair orders by directing these according to agreed developed powers. Linked to a scanner, this has helped the CSC to achieve a truly paperless office, in an environment renown for the amount of paper it can produce.

The CSC's customer service advisers are recruited from a customer servicing background and trained to a high degree of competency in repair analysis and housing management issues. This training is carried out in-house using their own specialist through a structured training program backed up by quizzes and games at the desk which reinforces formal classroom courses. The specialists are also there to give advice and support on issues of a more complex nature.

To monitor its performance and that of its contractors, regular telephone surveys are carried out and the results published on a quarterly basis. The latest survey found that 86% of customer enquiries were resolved during the first phone call, while 94% rated the overall service as good or excellent. In recognition of the investment and value put into its staff the CSC was re-accredited with Investors in People status.

Key to the CSC's success has been its ability to attract new business to its services. In March of this year the CSC had its first contract, set up in 1998, renewed for a further two years. Since then a further four housing association clients have been added to the growing list of clients using its contact centre services bringing the number of properties managed during out of hours to almost 40,000. Andy McQuaid, Client Account Holder, who has responsibility for managing these relationships, said: "the evolution of the CSC has been one of real growth from a call centre to a multi-channel contact centre with customer care at the forefront. Our blend of telephony and technology and our specialist skills enable us to offer a flexible and effective service solution to our customers, and this has found a niche market amongst our contemporaries in the social housing industry."

Outsourcing contract centre services is a realistic alternative to the high cost of setting up an operation of this type. It provides the benefits of economies of scale and access to contact centre expertise, delivering a seamless extension to clients' business so that their customers view the quality of service as their own.

If you would like more information about ECHG's clients services or would like to discover how they can help you deliver a better service contact Andy McQuaid on 0116 242 8143, or by e-mail to:
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