Logicalis Managed Service streamlines Hounslow’s communication with residents
The 10th largest London Borough by area and home to many global and national businesses, Hounslow stretches from Chiswick on the banks of the Thames to Bedfont on the edge of Heathrow Airport. With over 220,000 residents, the Borough encompasses some 12 communities who between them speak over 120 different languages. Its 3,000 staff fulfil a vital role in the local community by providing a range of educational, environmental, social care and housing services.
For five successive years now, Hounslow has kept its promise to residents to freeze council tax, making it one of only three authorities in the country to do so. With no increase in revenue since 2006, it has been obliged to introduce aggressive cost-cutting measures and continually focus on improving productivity. This effectively means delivering better services using less staff, says the Borough’s Head of Customer Services, Robert Della-Sala.
“Many of our residents prefer using the phone to access services, and we receive over 1.6million telephone calls each year,” he says. “Of these, around 240,000 are answered by our dedicated call centres. This clearly places enormous pressure on those providing responsive e-Government services and makes us increasingly reliant on the flexibility of our telephony infrastructure.”
In 2008, plans to create a new data centre and refurbish its main Civic Centre building meant Hounslow needed to replace its ageing Ericsson system which hitherto provided call routing to some departments. “As well as being out of contract, our switchboard offered very little in the way of reporting, which meant we were unable to monitor the performance of our telephone agents,” says Robert.
“We therefore issued an invitation to tender for its replacement and provision of an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and call routing system to accommodate upwards of 75 contact centre staff. Prospective suppliers were asked to take into account our existing IP telephony call-processing system, Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), the underlying converged network, and our investment in IP handsets.”
The tender also required:
- The removal of an MD110 system to reclaim space
- Provision of real-time and historical reporting across six departments in four locations across the borough
- Automation of repetitive functions to reduce manual call handling
- Cost savings through staff reduction or redeployment
- The recording of all calls to improve service quality
Having been engaged for several years as a telephony provider, Logicalis had a good understanding of the Council’s staff, culture, history and pressures, and was successful in winning the contract. Logicalis began implementing Cisco Unified Contact Centre Express (UCCX) to provide a routing engine and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) capabilities to enable call automation.
Against a background of massive cuts, Hounslow was keen for Logicalis to help it maximise the use of the IVR technology. It hoped this would remove the need for agents to deal with simple queries by implementing voice messaging and information lines, thereby freeing them to handle more complex calls. The project initially involved Logicalis working closely with six different areas of the Council to deliver intelligent call routing and recorded information messaging to handle repetitive enquiries.
“We began with the Environment contact centre where some days only 40% of calls were being answered and waiting times could be up to 10 minutes,” says Robert. “By introducing the ACD, we were able to route selected non-essential calls to a 24/7 voicemail system. As a result, we now regularly answer over 90% of calls. It means that non-agent routines, like reporting missed refuse collections, can be handled automatically without physical intervention by already overstretched agents.”
Robert says a similar structure is now being rolled out in stages across more teams within the Borough. In the case of the Registrar’s office the IVR system has reduced around 60% of enquiries, for example, where callers were not born within the Borough and therefore need to be dealt with by another authority.
“It also enables us to prioritise certain queues - for example, the registration of deaths, because bereavement is clearly a very stressful time for those callers. By prioritising certain services and re-routing other non-essential traffic, the introduction of new call handling technology has enabled us to reduce headcount and helped us optimise our service levels.”
Complaints handling: ‘Always on’ recording keeps a record of all calls from agents’ extensions for training purposes and to investigate customer complaints. Robert says complaints can now be quickly overturned where recordings prove the nature of the call was misrepresented by the complainant. Moreover, the ability to quickly create a menu of options to channel calls gives agents more time to process written parking ticket appeals, rather than dealing with complaints from irate drivers.
Information requests: Many callers request forms already available on the Council website. Rather than simply directing them to the site, responses are now condensed into a single voicemail or email, enabling back office staff to process and despatch the correct form during off-peak periods.
Mass call management: During extreme weather, Hounslow typically receives exceptional volumes of calls when staffing levels are potentially low. Most calls seek basic information or to report issues about which the Council is already aware. To overcome this, Logicalis configured the system to enable alternative call routing and messaging at the touch of a button. Recorded messages about refuse collections and school closures, for example, has dramatically reduced the number of calls agents need to handle.
Automated call routing: Callers who didn’t know the extension of the department they required were previously directed to operators, who manually routed them to the correct office. A menu now routes such calls automatically, enabling Hounslow to halve its number of operators and reduce call answer times from over two minutes to less than 45 seconds.
In short, Cisco UCCX provides a highly scalable and resilient platform incorporating extensive Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), which means when agents answer calls, the caller’s details are already up on screen. It has improved the Council’s speed and accuracy of response, reduced call times, increased performance and improved caller satisfaction. Moreover, the Logicalis solution maximises Hounslow’s existing telephony investment through its native integration with the Council’s existing voice network.
Having first been installed across six departments, the solution has now been extended to 11 areas of the Council and agent headcount is already up to 99. The next phase will involve adding further intelligence to enable integration with the Council’s internal systems and improved email handling.
“In addition to their excellent working relationship with Cisco, the Logicalis managed service provides us with a cost-effective, secure and highly adaptable solution at lowest risk to the Council,” says Robert . “It has not only improved communication with residents and dramatically reduced telephone queue times, but also enabled the Council to monitor calls and track departmental performance.
“In the absence of the necessary in-house skills, Logicalis gives us flexibility and the much-needed technical expertise to manage a very complex telephone infrastructure. Moreover, they have set us up with the capability to perform minor changes to messaging without needing to pull in external resources. Best of all, they have provided us with a secure architecture to underpin further development of our services.”