Cambridgeshire County Council Aims to Improve Service

By investing in a new customer contact centre, Cambridgeshire County Council say they have improved the efficiency of local services and increased the number of customer queries resolved on first call.

Before its new centre was opened in May 2003, the Council believes that a high percentage of calls to its service areas were met with an engaged tone. Today, less than 5% of customer calls to the Council are abandoned before callers are connected to an Advisor.

Routing calls to the right person was another major problem before the centre opened. In the area of Social Services, for example, around a third of all callers were being handed off to three people before making contact with the right person. Today, 80% of calls made to the Council are answered within 20 seconds, with Contact Centre Operators taking an average of only 20 seconds to answer calls. The percentage of customer queries resolved on first call is approximately 80%.

Based in St Ives, the centre has also improved accessibility by extending the hours that citizens can call the Council from 8am – 8pm Monday to Saturday (excluding bank holidays).

The contact centre currently employs over 70 people and handles over 2000 calls a day. It provides an extensive range of County services including The Blue Badge service (Disabled Parking Badge), Library, Waste Management, Occupational Health and General Enquiries, Trading Standards, The Older People’s Service, Physical Disabilities, Children Services, Streetscene, Online Payments, Traffic Signals, Registration Services and HR recruitment.

In addition, the contact centre has partnered with two local District Councils. Since February 2004, the centre has been managing a range of services for South Cambridge District Council including Environmental Health, Revenues, Housing, Switchboard, Benefits, Benefit Fraud, Lone working, Building Control, Development Services and Planning Services.
And since September 2005, it has provided building and IT facilities (but not contact centre personnel) for Huntingdon District Council on a shared facility basis

At the heart of Cambridgeshire County Council’s contact centre is call handling technology from Macfarlane Technology, Customer Relationship Management technology from Onyx, Knowledge Base technology from Microsoft, eforms technology from Taggish, and Case Base Reasoning technology from eGain. The Macfarlane CallPlus contact centre answers, intelligently routes and reports on all customer calls as well as providing call recording and comprehensive Management Information features. By enabling the Council to better manage its staff and call flows, the CallPlus system has played a significant part in the Council’s improved call handling performance.

With the addition of a second building to accommodate the growth of County Services, the Macfarlane technology also supports the routing of calls between the two locations in a manner that suits the Council operationally and that delivers a resilient disaster recovery solution. Cambridgeshire Council is considering extending this to provide complete virtual contact centre working in the future.

“When planning started for the new centre in 2002, our main drivers were eGovernment, social inclusion, improving access and accessibility to services. We sought to dramatically improve service levels, enable citizens to get through to the right person, and get queries resolved first time” explains Mark Andrews, Head of Mediated Channel Strategy at Cambridgeshire County Council. “Our aim was to offer a more streamlined and consistent service, no matter how calls were presented, with the ability to handle calls through to completion within the Contact Centre with a minimum of one hand-off.”

“When a new service now comes into the Contact Centre we look to re-engineer processes to identify efficiencies and make positive changes to enhance the customer experience” explains Tracey Lowndes, Head of Contact Centre Operations at Cambridgeshire Direct. “Prior to bringing the Blue Badge process into the contact centre for example, customers would ring into an office (during standard working hours), collect a form, fill that in and return it to the office. If something was missing from the form then the process would be delayed. It may have also been necessary to contact the applicant’s doctor and confirm eligibility, and collect and return two photos before a Blue Badge could be issued. The whole process could take 4-6 weeks or more. Now, the contact centre takes all applications over the phone, avoiding any problems relating to interpreting the form and any delay in sending out forms. Decisions are made almost there and then. Upon being advised eligibility, only one photo now needs to be sent in and the Blue Badge can generally be issued within a week.”

“Working closely with service area teams and with our Council partners can also help streamline services” she continues. “There is no reason why customers need to know the difference between a County and District service (e.g. that the County manages the Waste Recycling Centres, yet it is the District that collects waste). By working with South Cambridge District Council, for example, we can provide all services on a one stop basis.”

“A good working culture is also very important” adds Tracey Lowndes. “We look to develop our people, invest in their training and create and enhance their working environment. In 2005, the Council’s achievements in this area were recognised when we were shortlisted at the annual European Call Centre Awards in the ‘Best Call Centre Culture’ category.”

Mark Andrews believes that technology is key to the centre’s future development. “There’s a major focus on integration right now in order to deliver more joined-up services and to avoid double data entry” he states. “We’re also looking to implement voice over IP (VoIP) technology across the County to streamline our voice and data infrastructure and cut costs. On the contact handling front, we’re looking to blend emails and calls and implement CTI using Macfarlane technology.”

“Cambridgeshire has been leading the way in terms of proactively looking to streamline services and provide more consistent, easily accessible services to citizens right across the county. We are delighted to have been involved in this very exciting project” said Paul Skinner, Sales Director, Macfarlane Telesystems.