Providing Easy Access to Services
With more than 50,000 resident enquiries handled each month using a sophisticated telephony and multi-channel call management system, it’s hard to imagine that Cardiff Council’s progressive contact centre didn’t exist four years ago.
Today, a telephony solution based on Enghouse Interactive Contact Center: Enterprise (previously Syntellect CIM), which is resold as Mitel Commander and runs on the company’s voice messaging system, the solution helps to satisfy the needs of citizens counting on the Council for government services.
The county of Cardiff is the largest in Wales delivering services to approximately 320,000 people. The Connect to Cardiff (C2C) Contact Centre handles more than 50,000 resident enquiries each month for 130 different government services.
Isabelle Bignall, Head of Contact Centre Services at Cardiff Council says: “Before we set up the call centre, none existed. Citizens seeking a service like refuse collection would open phone directories and see 400 different numbers listed for Cardiff Council. Our main switchboard was jammed continuously. When a caller succeeded in getting through, they suffered long delays, were put through to the wrong department and in some cases were forced to repeat their story time and again. There was no contact centre, no trained agents, and just Council employees answering phones with little to no training.”
Bignall says the completion of a perception study of how and why citizens communicated with the Council changed earlier approaches, as it demonstrated that 83% of citizens wanted to contact the Council by telephone, but in addition, respondents wanted the ability to interact with the Council using email, fax, letters, text messaging and web chat.
Bignall says emerging from the study results was a new vision for the services Cardiff Council provided to local residents, one that would support “an integrated strategy for information-age government, where the people of our city could choose how they wished to contact the Council, rather than the other way around.”
At the new contact centre, realising this vision meant expanding the Council’s technology capabilities to provide a variety of communications options for citizens to get their questions resolved on first contact.
Cardiff Council took several months to conduct a pilot programme, then, after considering several different options for call routing and customer interaction management, Bignall says Cardiff began looking more closely at a combined offering from Mitel and Enghouse Interactive, with the latter supporting full integration with the Council’s CRM system.
The joint solution involving Mitel and Contact Center: Enterprise delivered rich telephony features for the centre’s 50 agents. It also helped Connect to Cardiff comply with the government’s social inclusion directive, which focuses on making public services more accessible to citizens.
“It delivered all desired communication channels, and it could deliver them in both English and Welsh,” Bignall explains. “Today, we deliver a capability which includes phone-based support, email, a text messaging service, web chat, Council voicemail, fax and the scanning of letters for electronic distribution by Cardiff Council agents. By linking all these communication channels together through Contact Center: Enterprise, we now have a comprehensive view of the services our citizens are requesting, as well as the channels they are using to access those services.”
Previously, there were 400 separate phone numbers listed for the Council which, with the new system’s routing capability, now requires only one main phone number, with Contact Center: Enterprise providing an easy-to-navigate menu of core Council services.
Contact Center: Enterprise produces screen-pops to an agent’s desktop, showing the calling line identification (CLI) to identify the caller and to generate past call histories. The same system is used to identify citizens accessing Connect to Cardiff online, as it recognises their inbound email address.
Interestingly, Bignall says just 5 of the original 22 agents that she hired had prior contact centre experience, but ultimately that had no impact on agent training. One feature agents have put into regular use is a toolbar enabling them to populate a reference directory of their most frequently used numbers, in order to promptly assist callers. The system automatically populates the toolbar with 10 numbers to start with, but once agents learned how they could personalise the list and create their own directory of the most valuable ’quick help numbers,’ it became a genuine time-saving device for agents and callers alike.
The centre handled 6,000 contacts in the first month of operation, with just 2% of those contacts coming from non-telephony sources such as email, text messaging or web chat. Bignall says that the Council wanted to go through a pilot period first, handling all contacts in a steady, sure fashion and, as she says, “…not go for the big bang. As a government agency, we wanted to handle the needs of citizens and do so smoothly.”
Today, the contact centre is handling more than 50,000 contacts each month, with more than 20% of those coming via email, text messaging, web chat and fax. For her dedication in helping to make Connect to Cardiff a success, Bignall was named the UK Call Centre Manager of the Year for 2005 by the Call Centre Management Association, winning the honour over more than 60 other nominees.
Additionally, the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is leveraging Bignall’s experience as a ’Best Practice‘ reference for other public sector contact centres.
In terms of non-telephony communication adoption, Bignall says that web chat is by far the fastest growing channel that citizens are using. It has also helped the Council lower overall costs by making its agents more productive, as the more experienced can manage multiple web chat sessions simultaneously.
“We are happy to reach out to the full community with such offerings as web chat, which is especially helpful to citizens who are perhaps hard of hearing. It makes a big difference for us on the social inclusion front, as the people we serve have taken to it hugely.”
With email, Bignall says the Council maintains standard responses in both English and Welsh in a knowledge library, which keeps transaction times to a minimum. Of particular importance to Cardiff Council is the ability of the combined system to produce useful statistical reports. These serve as valuable aids in monitoring call handling performance, evaluating staff and planning for future needs.
Bignall says that in addition to the standard Contact Center: Enterprise report views on average call handling times and call peaks and troughs, the reports also deliver important information such as specific times during the day when certain Council services are requested the most, by specific types of callers. Staffing needs at various points during the day can be assessed much more quickly, allowing management to respond in a more timely fashion at given hours.
For instance, with Welsh language callers, Cardiff Council carefully tracks who is calling, how often, the nature of the calls and how long those Welsh callers may have been waiting in the queue. Through the Contact Center: Enterprise’s reporting capabilities, Bignall detected a recent spike in Welsh callers and responded by hiring two additional agents fluent in the language.
But it is the contact centre’s unique ability to increase the Council’s level of social inclusiveness which most impresses Bignall. She cites the case of Cardiff County’s payphone boxes, all of which are now part of the system. If a resident dials in from a public payphone box, centre management realises the caller is not dialling from home and they likely do not own a mobile telephone.
Contact Center: Enterprise catapults these callers straight to the top of the queue. Why? Answering these calls first is important because all agents realise that the caller may be elderly or ill, or the victim of a crime on a street corner, or may have some other immediate issue while away from home. These calls requiring a timely response are routed to one of three specially trained payphone box agents for immediate handling.
“Mitel and Contact Center Enterprise (formally Syntellect CIM) have teamed to provide Cardiff Council with the ideal solution for us,” Bignall concludes. “On the centre management side, Enterprise is stable and adaptable. It’s like a vessel for us. You are not in a situation where it steers you. You steer it.”