'Your Call is Important to Us'
For busy people seeking product information by telephone, nothing is as annoying as being put on hold, waiting for what seems like an eternity, and then being told incorrect information. Despite assurances that “your call is important to us,” canny consumers are increasingly skeptical that companies are doing their “very best” to serve them.
GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE IS CRITICALBut smart companies in a competitive environment understand the critical nature of good customer service. Rogers Communications, for one, has more than 4,000 customer service staff to serve its more than seven million telephone, cable and wireless subscribers. Keeping these people up to date with the latest company merchandise and offerings as well as providing technical support is always a daunting task.
But recently, as a result of Rogers integrating recent corporate takeovers and introducing new products, the company faced further challenges. Its customer service representatives now had to manage four different knowledge systems stored in an outdated “legacy” information technology badly in need of replacement. Frustrated, Rogers turned to Bay Consulting Group for help.
ASSESS BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS THEN ITFor John Huehn, Rogers vice-president of client management, the test was to find someone who could “articulate our business requirements and then translate those requirements into the appropriate IT system.” Bay Consulting’s Dave Johnston was that person, and “he did a great job.”
Marrying IT and business needs is one of Dave’s specialties. When he arrived on the Rogers scene, Dave found the customer service reps struggling with documents of up to 40 pages, some in binders, others computerized in difficult-to-manage software. Call-in customers would often be put on hold while the rep searched for an answer, frequently relying on the “tribal knowledge” of more experienced colleagues. “The biggest problem was that the reps did not have the proper data to do their jobs,” recalls Dave. “They had inadequate information delivered inadequately.”
For Dave, the Rogers assignment, which took him 15 months, full-time and then some, was one of the biggest change management jobs in his 35 -year consulting career.
USER TEAMS KNOW THEIR BUSINESSTo begin, Dave set up a team of 10 reps at the Rogers call centre in Kitchener, Ont. He worked with them for several months, understanding their jobs and defining their business/systems requirements for better information and data. He created, revised and refined his own Top Ten list of why customers call in. The reasons ranged from service complaints to purchase requests and billing inquiries. Each call required different material (i.e., information and relevant content).
“In a situation like this,” says Dave, “you need to ‘architect’ your information. It’s just like building a home. Every room has a purpose, and everyone knows what to expect when one enters that room. For example, bathrooms and kitchens have sinks, bedrooms have closets, living rooms have chairs, etc.
“For Rogers, we needed to organize and classify their vast amounts of background material so that the reps would know where to go for answers. And they had to have confidence that they could find the appropriate answers—and find them quickly. The information had to be short, clear, accurate and relevant to the customer—and easily accessible for the rep.”
SIMPLIFY, CONSOLIDATE AND ORGANIZEGuided by this principle, Dave reduced thousands of documents of mostly “disorganized facts” into simple solutions found on one to three pages. The material was arranged so that the reps could access it from different starting points, whether it be by a simple search engine or by calling up the particular business process prompting the customer call such as the Purchase of New Equipment or Technical High-Speed Internet Support.
There were many adjustments along the way as Dave met daily and then weekly with the front line customer reps and their team leaders. “I was really pleased with how quickly these people understood the real needs of their customers and made suggestions for improvement,” he recalls. “We learned early on that the reps often lacked sufficient information to satisfy their customers. Too often, the customer rep would have to end the call, research the request and phone the client back.”
STAGE DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATIONTo simplify implementation, Dave and Rogers first focused on the company’s new home phone service. Being a new product, it presented the opportunity for a fresh start without any baggage from the past.
After designing an information response system for the home phone, Dave shifted to cable TV and Internet where he found some 10,000 product and service documents with vast duplication. This time, Dave needed to establish three teams of customer reps to develop the new information system and technology. In the end, he reduced the number of documents by about 60 per cent, reduced their size on average by 75 per cent, increased the information relevancy by large orders of magnitude of 2 – 10 times and increased the information accuracy on average by 250 per cent. On the IT solution side, he created a single IT/Library system to replace the five legacy systems.
GOOD SYSTEMS = GOOD MORALE = GOOD SERVICERogers expects Dave’s recommendations will improve customer service as well as employee morale. “The new system is more straightforward and easier to use,” says Huehn. “We expect service to be faster, more accurate and have more first-call resolution of customer inquiries.”
Specifically, calls should be dealt with more quickly, reducing overtime. And they should be handled more efficiently, increasing customer satisfaction. “The reps will have more confidence in the information they deliver to customers, and the customers will have more confidence in the information they receive,” says Huehn. “It will be a faster and crisper service experience for everyone.”