IT at work


ie group (formerly SEC)

SEC, formerly a trader in securitised endowment contracts, has recently reinvented itself through the development of a web-enabled call centre, and has also now been re-named ie group.

Its stated goal is to lead the market for independent financial services, by the expedient of putting its customers first. To achieve this, it has recently invested in the latest customer-facing technology, allowing its customer relationship managers (CRMs) to deal with enquiries by telephone, e-mail, fax, letter or through the group’s website.

The ie group is made up of a series of virtual companies: ie Stockbroking, ie Insurances, ie Tax Guard, ie Mortgages, ie Health and ie Direct. The whole operation has been designed and built around a communications infrastructure linking these virtual companies with existing businesses to support an overall customer relationship management strategy.

With a need for each business to operate independently as well as interact successfully, there were complex requirements for the customer interaction centre design. Merchants Technology Solutions, a consultancy specialising in turnkey solutions for customer contact management and e-business, helped to select and implement the technology.

With a relatively small call centre operation, employing 15 agents, cost and risk constraints inevitably needed to be taken into account. Merchants recommended Rockwell Transcend – a software-based, multichannel customer interaction platform – as the most advanced solution available in the marketplace.

It would allow ie group to cost-effectively build an end-to-end multimedia communications solution, with the same level of functionality previously available only to much larger organisations.

Rockwell Transcend’s open architecture allowed Merchants to build a turnkey solution which could interact with ie group’s legacy systems. The product’s Windows NT Server and CT Media-based architecture separates application, switching and call handling functions for easy integration with existing IT infrastructures.

Barry Parsons, group infrastructure director at ie group, said: “We were looking for a call centre platform that was cost effective and yet provided maximum functionality, allowing us to grow. Rockwell’s Transcend gives us a world-class platform for the same cost as a basic switch and, what’s more, it’s future-proof.”

The ie group transformed a greenfield site to a live customer contact centre in under six months to meet the launch deadline of March 1999.

The Rockwell product is at the heart of an open communications server environment. It is supported by agent technology from Edify that accesses a central Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database, which integrates legacy and external systems.

While the telephone remains the preferred contact medium, customers can contact the call centre while they are browsing on the website – using a “call me now” or “call me later” button. This sends an alert to the call centre that indicates an outbound call to a second telephone line – within seconds or at a time specified by the customer.

The web-enabled call centre also allows ie group to respond to specific client needs using a single customer knowledge base, to support the company’s full CRM programme. All the customer relationship managers have browser software on their workstations, which allows them to access the Internet and view the same web page as the adviser. The CRMs are working permanently on the web browser, which provides constant access to relevant product information, throughout every call.

At any point, CRMs can hit hot buttons, which provide hyperlinks to the information they need. They can also log customer interest in different services thereby maximising cross-selling opportunities for the future.

Unlike similar organisations, ie group does not see the Internet as a low-cost stand-alone delivery channel. It sees the Internet as a CRM enhancer, offering the customer choice and availability that the phone can’t always provide, particularly in a 24 x 365 service environment.

JD Edwards

Enterprise business software company JD Edwards has recently completed the first European implementation of Siemens Communications’ Resume Routing call centre solution.

It has allowed JD Edwards to avoid one of the common downsides to call centre technology, the placement of agents into static groups defined by function or skill. Resume Routing automatically redesigns the JD Edwards call centre for each call to best serve individual customers.

Kevin Ramskir, customer support technical manager EMEA with JD Edwards, says: “It is crucial that we have a market leading capacity to support our users 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Like many companies, JD Edwards operates a “follow the sun” customer support programme with call centres in USA, Far East and UK. In the UK, Resume Routing has dramatically altered the way in which it approaches client service in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The JD Edwards call centre is a low volume, high skill operation with more than 100 employees. It supports more than 1,000 customers across EMEA as well as many partners and JD Edwards field consultants. Working across Europe means that operators can potentially operate in up to six different languages, as well as providing multiple levels of technical support across different applications and modules. This gives rise to several hundred possible call types.

Previously, JD Edwards had operated, as many call centres do, with an administrator managing and screening all incoming customer calls. They would route calls to queues monitored by teams or groups, a practice commonly referred to as Automatic Call Distribution (ACD).

Colin Balmforth, senior manager with JD Edwards EMEA customer support services, explains: “Our customer support faced a business issue with up to 26% of calls misplaced in its call centre. With the introduction of Resume Routing, we have been able to define and maintain accurate skill sets for our agents. This in combination with interactive voice recognition (IVR) enables our clients to get directly to the best skill set available virtually eliminating call misplacement.”

Now JD Edwards can deploy resources in the most effective manner for each call, by matching the call needs to the language, technical/application product skills and preferences of agents.

“Skills-based call management provides a significantly enhanced solution for maintaining a unique skill set for each and every consultant,” comments Ramskir. “For example, the consultant may speak multiple languages, know JD Edwards’ OneWorld finance applications and have specific in-depth skills in accounts payable. Each of these skill areas and the skill level can be populated in the telephone system and weighted with appropriate preferences.”

The IVR system was supplied with digitally recorded voice prompts by Success On Hold. The company creates a professional interface that sounds consistent with all other voice platforms, maintaining corporate image and customer service standards.

Overall, there were six languages to source – French, English, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and German. Success On Hold possesses its own voice portfolio, which includes 70 foreign language speakers, so the project team was able to help JD Edwards select the right voiceovers quickly.

Resume Routing has allowed managers to set preferences to gradually increase the exposure of employees as they become more experienced and better trained.This allows JD Edwards to operate a positive employee motivation and maintenance system.


Royal & SunAlliance

Crises, by their nature, are unpredictable, which is why planning for them is one of the more challenging elements of corporate strategy. But any company with mission critical business processes must to a degree be prepared for the very worst at any one time. Planning for a crisis successfully will almost always mean an organisation calling on the help of a trusted third party.

On the 16 June 1996, the city of Manchester spiralled into turmoil as a bomb devastated the city centre. The central retail area of the Arndale Centre was worst affected, with many people injured and damage to shops and offices running into millions of pounds.

Damage to Royal & SunAlliance’s office was extensive and the building was deemed inoperable. The company immediately invoked the crisis management strategy that it had developed with BT CommSure.

A major re-locating procedure had to be undertaken as quickly as possible.

The only option open to staff members was to relocate all their operations to their Liverpool office 35 miles west along the M62 motorway. CommSure enabled this swiftly, and a mobile unit was on site along with a CommSure duty manager by four that afternoon, and 30 minutes later a second duty manager arrived with additional equipment including telephones necessary to ensure maximum operability of the unit.

In the hours following their arrival, the team began work to restore all communications. The task required close co-operation between all involved as they patiently configured the CommSure unit, a job that ran into the early hours of the following morning.

DPNSS links were run in to the Btex switch to allow connectivity with the outside world via ISDN 30 links. Multi-core cables were installed to a patching point to provide working extensions in the portacabins located on the roof of the Royal & SunAlliance building. These portacabins were empty, ready to be equipped for some training events to take place in the near future. This proved to be a lucky break for Royal & SunAlliance.

All 300 extensions and network services were configured and tested by approximately four in the morning. Desks and PCs were installed in the portacabinsthe following day, ready for staff to use. Two CommSure representatives remained on site once everything was in place to tweak the configuration of the switch and ensure it suited the requirements of the customer.

As a further part of the CommSure service, a visit one week later was made to the site in Liverpool to ensure everything was running smoothly and to assist in any further queries that may have been aired. The restoration of Royal & SunAlliance’s communications is part of the company’s history, and another tick in Commsure’s list of successfully managed crises.

Michael Regester

Michael Regester is a public relations consultant and an acknowledged authority on crisis management. His knowledge has been called on by a wide range of organisations around the world, and he is co-author of Risk Issues and Crisis Management with colleague Judy Larkin, a standard work on the subject.

He spoke to Management Consultancy about the time he was called in by the Wales Tourist Board to minimise the devastating public relations disaster threatened by a major oil spill.

The crisis started when, on 15 February 1996, the Sea Empress hit rocks on its approach to Texaco’s refinery in Milford Haven. Such spills can be deadly to a local economy not only because of the spilt oil but in terms of harm to tourism and the image of local business. Long after the oil has been cleared away, this sort of problem can hamper the whole community.

Regester’s first big problem was that media reports in Germany, Denmark and further afield implied that the whole of Wales was affected. His first task was to correct these misconceptions, and if possible turn the tables and show the Pembrokeshire coast to advantage while the world’s media were watching.

He says: “Our strategy, which won immediate approval from the Wales Tourist Board, had to be aimed at supporting the tourist trade, reassuring holiday makers and persuading the media that every possible effort was being made to clean the affected beaches and restore them to their natural state prior to the tourist season.”

Less than a week after the spill, the Welsh Tourism Fights Back campaign was underway. Regester’s colleague Rosie Clifford had devised a scheme based around the theme of “the treasure is still here – but no longer a secret”. The theme struck a chord and the word “treasure” frequently appeared in headlines about the crisis.

Regester says: “We wanted to minimise the medium and long-term damage to the tourist industry by capitalising on the rapid and comprehensive clean up operation, and to emphasise that only a small area of Wales had suffered. The majority of Pembrokeshire’s beaches were unaffected. This would hopefully counteract the predominantly negative and exaggerated image of the extent of the environmental pollution propagated by media coverage.”

The campaign included a telephone hotline to respond to concerned holiday makers, around 20 television and radio interviews arranged for the WTB’s chief executive John French, using British tourism offices overseas to spread positive messages, and briefing the Prince of Wales and the Welsh Secretary of State on the campaign to gain their support.

As French himself commented at the time, “The images that brought us worldwide attention were negative, but now more people that ever before know of the beauty that can be found here. We were determined not to let the media’s images outlast the pollution itself.”

Positive media coverage soon began to outweigh the negative. On St David’s Day alone, the WTB managed to broadcast its reassurance campaign so that it reached around one million listeners in the UK. A study subsequently published by the University of Wales, the Welsh Economy Research Unit, Cardiff Business School and the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, concluded that “the impact of the spillage on tourism was an average reduction of 12.9%”. Such a minimal loss is certainly a testament to the effectiveness of a well deployed crisis management policy – and to the experience of Regester and Larkin.

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