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The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (LBBD) has reported a dramatic improvement in its customer service performance following the opening of a new Customer Contact Centre in October 2004. The contact centre is built on call handling technology from Macfarlane Telesystems and CRM software from Northgate Information Solutions.

Immediately prior to the LBBD Centre opening, only 44% of calls from the public to its various council service lines were answered, the rest being abandoned. Today, that figure is 98.4% - with a massive 86% answered within 20 seconds. Customer service hours have also been extended. Previously people could only call between 8.45am and 4.45pm - now, lines are open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday.

The opening of the Customer Contact Centre has also contributed to a sharp rise in customer satisfaction. In research conducted amongst a random sample of people calling into the Council since October:

* 57% stated that they were 'very' satisfied at the end of the call and a further 34% 'quite' satisfied
* 56% said that the Council's response was 'better than expected' with a further 32% stating that their expectations were met
* 71% said their enquiry was fully dealt with

The contact centre currently employs 24 advisors, 2 Supervisors, a Resource Planner and a Manager. It currently handles on average 12,000 calls a month for 26 Council 'processes' mainly relating to Environmental Health Services. In the second phase of development, scheduled to be completed August 2005, Social Services, Education, and Housing & Health Services will be added with Revenues and Benefits coming on-line by March 2006. Customer contact volumes and the number of advisors employed at the Centre are both expected to treble as a result.

Macfarlane technology answers, intelligently routes and provides detailed management reports on all inbound and outbound calls handled by the Centre. It also provides flexible call recording (used for dispute management and agent training) and interactive voice response facilities.

"The Macfarlane system is absolutely key to the improvements we've made" said Michelle Turnbull, Call Centre Manager at Barking & Dagenham Direct. "As anyone who runs a contact centre knows, being able to monitor activities in real time and make rapid changes to greetings and call routing rules is vital. The Macfarlane system provides all this and more from a single management workstation. It's an extremely flexible and reliable system that's both powerful and easy-to-use."

'Customer First'

Prior to the setting up of the contact centre, enquiries from the public were answered by many different administrative staff, managers and specialist officers, often straining the resources of Council departments which had many other tasks to perform. The Council had no ability to record calls in the event of disputes, queue calls and provide information to callers, measure the quality of its call handling, or provide robust performance management information.

Recognising that customer service was an issue, the Council conducted a Best Value review in 2003. The review, supported by findings from a MORI survey amongst citizens in the Borough, led to a program called Customer First being launched later that year. The program was designed to deliver a more customer-focused, joined-up service infrastructure - with the creation of a focused contact centre as a key priority.

When the funding for the new contact centre was agreed by LBBD in December 2003, a soft launch date in September 2004 was agreed. This left a mere eight months for plans to be finalised, equipment to be purchased and staff to be recruited and trained. The Northgate and Macfarlane solution was selected following a rigorous tendering and selection process that involved examination of six shortlisted CRM and call handling options.

The Barking & Dagenham Direct identity was created to spearhead the Borough's new customer service focus - and a new central service number 020 8215 3000 was created. The Centre today not only takes calls to this line but also calls made to existing advertised LBBD service lines, as well as email interactions to their new email address 3000Direct@lbbd.gov.uk

Building for the Future

Customer First has involved sweeping changes to the Council as Michelle Turnbull explains. "It's been a huge business process re-engineering task to change the culture of the Council to a customer-focused organisation, but we're already starting to see the benefits. The contact centre is doing a fantastic job, not only delivering great service but also freeing up other specialist departments to concentrate on priority projects. We now need to build on these successes."

In the future, the Council intends to increase the number of contact channels available - to include SMS messaging and web chat for customers using its web site. It will also further empower its customer service officers with caller information that's automatically relayed to their computer screens as they take calls. The Council will also introduce new performance measures that relate closely to customer satisfaction - such as Query Resolution at First Point of Contact.

"We are delighted to have been selected to work as part of this impressive new project" said William Gray, Managing Director of Macfarlane Telesystems. "Barking & Dagenham Direct must be congratulated on the fantastic customer service improvements it has made."

The LBBD, located in North East London, serves 163,000 citizens. Further information can be found at www.barking-dagenham.gov.uk

About Macfarlane Telesystems

Founded in 1987, Macfarlane is a UK developer and supplier of communication solutions to service providers, enterprises and public sector organisations. Its CallPlus platform supports a range of applications including contact centre, IVR and unified communications. The company delivers cost-effective, market-focused solutions directly and through strategic partnerships with vendors such as Northgate, Onyx, Sx3, Deloittes and Lagan.

Macfarlane has established a strong position in the public sector where it assists central and local government reach e-government targets, providing a citizen-centric approach while working within Best Value practices. Existing customers number more than 50 local councils including those within the Government's Partnership programme such as Somerset Direct Partnership, the Warwickshire On-line Partnership and more recently, the Cornish Key Partnership. CallPlus has enabled these Partnerships to link their many local councils and create single 'virtual' contact centres that serve citizens on a county-wide basis. More details can be found at www.macfar.co.uk

Press enquiries:

Michael Gray
Gray Associates
Tel: +44 (0)20 8744 9168
michael@grayassociates.co.uk



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