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BT’s ‘future-fit’ workplaces get first showing at Newcastle contact centre

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BT has released new images of its Gosforth Contact Centre currently undergoing a multi-million-pound refurbishment – as it announced the project has already completed its first phase and will open later this year.

The centre has undergone a major revamp to modernise it and create a workplace for hundreds of staff. The first phase of works, which started at the end of last year, is now complete.

The facilities and services will include everything from full height windows providing natural light, café and restaurant facilities, to flexible workspaces and collaboration areas. It will also include ‘relax and refuel’ areas, a games area with table tennis, pool and games consoles as well as a small putting green.

The multi-million pound refurbishment will also include a multi-faith and parenting room, an on-site concierge and a ‘bike doctor’ to encourage as many staff as possible to travel into work by sustainable transport.

The refurbishment is taking place in two stages, allowing contact centre workers the flexibility to work from home or to continue operating in another section of the building whilst work continues to take place. BT says it’s ensuring social distancing rules apply inside the contact centre as well as following Public Health England’s latest guidelines on Covid-19 to ensure people are kept safe.

When the work is complete, the state-of-the art refurbishment in Gosforth will be one of the first of BT’s future-fit offices in the UK to open as part of its ‘Better Workplace Programme’ – the largest workplace improvement and consolidation scheme of its type ever undertaken in the UK.

Teams based at the Gosforth Contact Centre will benefit from full fibre broadband as well as EE 5G mobile connectivity in the area. BT says the Better Workplace Programme will deliver a combination of moves like this, into new offices, as well as the refurbishment of some existing BT buildings.

Nick Lane, Managing Director for Consumer Customer Services at BT, said: “BT is fully committed to Newcastle and we are pleased that the first phase of our refurbishment is now complete.

“We are excited that our colleagues in Gosforth will be among the first in the UK to benefit from our future-fit workplaces, bringing our people together in an impressive and modern environment, transforming the way we work.

“The local team has done a fantastic job ensuring that our customers have been able to stay connected during the Covid -19 pandemic with some choosing to remain working on site during the refurbishment, while other colleagues have chosen to work from home.

“We look forward to welcoming staff into our new refurbished building as we aim to make BT the best place to work in the local area.”

Liz Needleman, BT Group regional lead for the North of England, said: “Gosforth is a strategically important site for BT and this refurbishment is a real sign of our continued commitment to Newcastle.

“I am looking forward to our colleagues being able to benefit and thrive in their new future-fit workspace that we are creating, which will transform the way we work as we continue to do the best we can for both our customers and colleagues.

“This is a bold and ambitious programme for BT and we are committed to this major investment for Newcastle even in these challenging times.”

BT commits long-term future to Plymouth contact centre

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The EE contact centre in Plymouth is set for a multi-million refurbishment as BT commits its long-term future to the city as part of plans to invest in a complete refit of its facility there.

The centre – located in Langage Business Park, Plympton, and one of the largest employers in the area – will undergo a full refurbishment to modernise it and create an improved workspace for the 900 or so colleagues based there.

While the majority of contact centre colleagues based in Plymouth – and at other locations across the country – are still working from home during the pandemic, the company is continuing to invest in new and modern workspaces as part of its ‘Better Workplace’ programme.

At the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, the company introduced new systems to equip contact centre colleagues, who wanted to work from home temporarily, with the technology, security and equipment to do so.

Plymouth is one of the company’s largest contact centres and employs hundreds of customer service advisors, providing support to customers across the UK.

BT’s consumer contact centres now handle 100% of customer calls in the UK, including at EE’s contact centre in Plymouth. Since customer service for BT, EE and Plusnet customers was brought back to the UK and Ireland last year, more than 34 million calls have been handled.

Work on the refurbishment is due to start in the summer and will be phased to make sure there is no impact on customers or colleagues. The project is expected to last around twelve months and will involve local contractors and suppliers, where possible.

EE, part of BT Group, opened the Plymouth contact centre in 2000 and the company says the investment highlights its future commitment to the location and the wider region.

Nick Lane, managing director for consumer customer services at BT, said: “We’re excited about the plans to refurbish our Plymouth contact centre. It’s an important location for the company and will be the first EE contact centre in the country to benefit from one of our new future-fit workplaces.

“While most colleagues are still working from home due to the pandemic, we’ll be working with them to help create a modern, innovative workspace we can all be proud of. The buildings in which we work play a huge part in how we feel.

“Colleagues in our contact centres have played a really important role during the Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve done a fantastic job making sure our customers have been able to stay connected with family, friends and work during this difficult time.”

BT Group is a major employer in the South West of England, directly employing more than 8,000 people, including this contact centre. According to a new independent report published this week, BT Group’s combined activities in the South West adds nearly £2 billion to the region’s economy and supports more than 17,000 jobs through direct and indirect effects.

2020 Contact centre trends you need to know

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Contact Centre executives have a lot on their plates. To thrive in 2020 and beyond, successful leaders must set their sights on strategic differentiation, not daily firefighting. No longer is it sufficient to react in-the-moment and call it good enough.

The smartest (and most successful) contact centre leaders realise they need to keep looking forward at all times to identify the important trends shaping the industry.

For our annual trends e-book, Serenova researched and spoke to industry analysts, customers and prospects to uncover the critical, emerging trends that deserve your attention. Understanding these issues will help you effectively prioritize resources, including time, budget and workforce, to ensure your contact centre operates at its full potential.

Download your copy today at https://success.serenova.com/ccb-2020-trends

Firstsource

350 new jobs at Firstsource Middlesbrough

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Leading contact centre outsourcer Firstsource hasannounced 350 new jobs at its Middlesbrough-based contact centre after securing two major contracts.

The company is currently recruiting for service agents, team leaders and trainers to service the outsource contracts, which are thought to be with an unnamed high street banking financial regulator.

Initially the the jobs will provide fixed-term positions for three to four months. However, Firstsource has said that many of the positions will also be permanent.

“Firstsource in Middlesbrough is a financial services centre of excellence,” said Kate Neilson, HR Manager, Firstsource. “We are recruiting for around 350 permanent and fixed roles, and contracts will vary in length.

“Many will be permanent roles and some are fixed term, in line with demand.

“We are looking for frontline customer service agents, team leaders and trainers to support the ramp in headcount.”

In 2012 the company axed 500 jobs from its Thornaby and Middlesbrough contact centres after losing work from Barclaycard.

In 2015, it created 500 new jobs at its Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Cardiff contact centres.

India-based Firstsource employs over 26,000 people in its home country, the Philippines, the US and the UK.

www.firstsource.com

EE brings 1,000 jobs to UK & Ireland

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100% of EE customer service calls will now be answered within the UK and Ireland as the company has created over 1,000 jobs in the last year.

The announcement follows parent company BT’s announcement of introducing 500 more positions to tackle increased customer demand.

Unlike its parent company, EE is among the least complained about mobile companies in the UK according to OFCOM, having received just five complaints in every 100,000 last quarter compared to BT’s 36.

The mobile giant has made a lot of progress since 2014, when the operator was receiving 12 complaints per 100,000, although its second quarter 2016 was the lowest record according to OFCOM, with just four.

EE was beaten to the top spot by O2, Three and Tesco Mobile, with Tesco receiving on average just a single complaint in every 100,000.

“2016 was a landmark year in the service that we provided to our customers,” said EE CEO Marc Allera, “We’re passionate about making our service the best in the industry, so you can expect more to come soon.”

On the horizon for EE is expanding its 4G coverage. By 2020 the company is hoping to have covered 95% of the UK’s landmass.

 

Contact Centres Need to ‘Communicate With Customers’

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A survey has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits have a negative perception of call centres.

90% surveyed by Aquarium Software admitted they expect to be sold something when answering a call from a centre even though that makes up just one quarter of calls made in the industry.

“These results are worrying,” according to managing director of Aquarium Software, Ed Shropshire, who believes a large factor in positively changing public opinion is adapting to modern technology.

“Only the right software can allow contact centres to interact with customers in a way they find acceptable,” added Mr Shropshire, explaining that “if a customer is asking you a question via Twitter, a reply via phone call is unlikely to be appreciated.”

Making use of these ‘omnichannel systems’ lets consumers contact on their terms, giving companies a stronger reputation.

“There are always going to be a small minority who do engage in unsolicited selling,” but says that the future of the industry will be led by those who are willing to offer more ways to communicate, which will help “show the public that contact centres are a valuable and worthwhile resource.”

New App to ‘Aggressively’ Change Workforce

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A mobile call centre app is aiming to remove the need of computer terminals for employees without risking data security.

The Verint Mobile Work View looks to allow employees constant access to workplace information regardless of time or location.

With a main goal of removing the reliance on computers and web browsers, the app will also allow employees to access work schedules and request time off through their mobile devices.

The app allows for enhanced security capabilities to ensure information isn’t stored on devices, and “enables companies to confidently extend mobile capabilities to employees without compromising data security,” says Verint SVP and general manager in strategic operations, Nancy Treaster, adding “we are aggressively and proactively adding apps and other solutions that help address the evolving requirements of today’s changing workforce.”

The changes integrate Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, which can have large financial benefits and increase workforce optimisation in employees.

The convenience of instantly using your own devices, according to Ms Treaster, will allow workers to “experience the benefits of further engagement and empowerment that comes with delivering on-demand, actionable information.”

Guest Blog, Darryl Beckford: Merging the new with the old – disruptive technologies for contact excellence…

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Customer expectations have never been higher, and the contact centre has been heavily affected by the rising ‘bar’ for contemporary customer experience, fuelled by rapidly evolving consumer technologies.

But in reality, many struggle to reconcile antiquated operations with strategic digital ambitions. The danger is that without improving the customer experience and breadth of service available through the contact centre, many enterprises will be unable to achieve their core strategic objectives and will leave themselves vulnerable to challenger start-ups.

The right technology deployments such as voice analytics, natural language call steering and voice biometric technology can enable a customer-centric strategy in the modern contact centre. These tools can be used in new ways (outlined below) to drive efficiencies and a better experience now. But what about the future?

As consumer adoption of technology outpaces that of the enterprise, contact centres of the future must harness new modern technologies for the connected consumer to enhance the experiences of both employees and customers alike. These innovative technologies can be merged with current tools, delivering customer contact that supports a disruptive business.

Voice analytics

Voice analytics raised its head about five or seven years ago as ‘the next big thing’, but has fizzled out because the use case pushed by vendors just wasn’t working. While in theory the idea that you could do a Google-esque search of your call recordings to find out what people are saying sounds fun, in reality companies don’t have the time to delve into that detail.

But many companies have invested in this technology, and there are other ways to derive value from it. That way is through using voice analytics to drive consistency and embed change. For example, the use of Quality Advisors to monitor agent calls to ensure the best possible service is widespread, but in contact centres with more than 1,000 agents this can be an expensive and inefficient process. Often there is only time to monitor one or two of each agent’s calls every month.

Instead, contact centres can use voice analytics to listen to all calls answered by agents, and not only give agents a score that is more specific, but can do so on a daily basis. This makes it a lot easier to gather the most out of your workforce, ensuring consistency and empowering personal behavioural change in the contact centre. Most contact centres have good staff who are ambitious, and want to do the best job possible, but they may be inconsistent – and without useful instruction, will remain so. Voice analytics is one way of tackling that in 2017.

Natural language call steering

Natural language call steering can ensure the call reaches the appropriate adviser by automating the caller’s journey, and when done right it can work seamlessly for customers. Using an ‘Open Menu’, contact centres can ask the customer to describe their reason for calling, and use the caller’s naturally spoken response and further clarification questions to route the call. Speech recognition technology in the past was incredibly lumpy, and this is worlds apart. The key feature is that it is low effort, and directs the customer to where they want to go the first time round.

Voice biometrics

Looking back, 2016 has been the year of voice biometrics. Banks such as Barclay’s are beginning to take the potential of the technology seriously, paving the way for other industries to adopt it as a trusted method of verification in call centres. Voice biometric technology can be used to create a unique Voice ID or “voiceprint” from a caller’s voice. This can be used to identify and verify callers to the contact centre, and also as part of a multi-factor authentication scheme for digital and mobile application channels.

Some challenges have arisen as new software has become available which potentially allows a fraudster to spoof a customer’s voice. Biometrics tools will continue to evolve to defeat this “voice hack”, by using additional factors to ensure security.

Right now voice biometrics is seen as being about security, however the future of the technology will actually be about customer personalisation and choice. Since identity verification can now happen without the customer even noticing, voice biometrics make sure customers are treated in the way they ought to be. Ultimately the aim is to allow customers to use their identity to be able to log how they want to be treated, and which channels they like to use.

Voice-controlled technology

The voice-connected Amazon Echo was released in the UK just over a month ago, and is a connected home tool which could change the way that people live in their homes. The Amazon Echo runs on a service called Alexa, a voice controlled personal assistant. Amazon sees the future as smarter, connected and everywhere, and it is my opinion that the real boom here will be in customer contact.

If used properly, voice-controlled tools can drastically improve customer experience, reduce customer effort and reduce operating costs. Customers are really driven by effort, even the extra work involved in having to look up passwords is enough to put customers off. Customer contact involves many different transactions types, from balance check which lasts a couple of minutes to a mortgage application which can last up to 40 minutes. A lengthy transaction would not work on technology like Echo, but short frequent activities such as ‘Check my Balance’ are a sweet spot for Alexa. The customer benefit is huge – chores become a 10 second activity, rather than an obstructive two minutes via the call centre.

The key to this technology is spotting when it will work within the customer journey, and how it can tie into how the customer is attempting self-service. Organisations must start to think in a slightly different way – not necessarily about linear process flows, but understanding what the customer is doing in that specific episode.

Potential for the future

But the potential doesn’t stop there for the technology. In 2017 and beyond, the combination of voice biometrics and other technology is where we will see the most change. If an Amazon Echo device can recognise you from the sound of your voice, then in the future it should be able to offer you things based on your preferences, and services that you’ll be subscribed to. What if you could go to someone’s house, be recognised by your voice, and connect to your own account? It could go even further: the Echo is a dumb device with a speaker, microphone and a processor, but it could be replaced with your connected car allowing you to also access those services, handsfree, whilst on the move.

The future of voice biometrics is that these devices will be able to connect you with your services and preferences based on your identity. As the technology that is becoming mainstream begins to connect together and prove itself, it offers a glimpse into a future that is radically different from where we are now.

 

Darryl is a customer contact professional who has mastered the art of delivering low effort experiences for customers across multiple channels. Now head of Digital Acceleration at KCOM, he has considerable previous experience as a consultant, helping many well-known brands create precise, meaningful and repeatable experiences for their customers.

Industry Spotlight: New original research from Kura and the CCA…

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For most contact centre professionals, delivering consistently good customer experience across multiple channels and touchpoints is the ultimate goal. Understanding the complex landscape of changing customer expectations, as well as the opportunities offered by technological innovations, means that this goal requires continuous adaptation.

With this in mind, Kura teamed up with the CCA to understand what this means for organisations today and how they can best prepare for this in the future. From our extensive research we’ve uncovered a number of trends and have concluded five top customer service strategies to service the contact centre customer of the future. These are:

1. Lead from the top down.
2. Personal, empathetic and complex problem-solving.
3. Setting-up people for success.
4. Measuring performance.
5. Be proactive, seize opportunities.

 

To download our exec summary, click here 

Industry Spotlight: Finding the ‘perfect fit – the psychology of contact centre recruitment…

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Brona Ratcliffe, head of contact centres HR at Domestic & General, oversees more than 900 employees at the company’s Nottingham-based contact centre. Domestic & General employs more than 2,500 employees in the UK and, last year alone, handled eight million calls, spending three billion hours on the phone.

Here, she explains how Domestic & General has adopted strengths-based recruitment to appoint the right talent for a successful contact centre environment.

Change can be difficult, do you agree?

A tough question, but this will likely face applicants during a job interview with Domestic & General as part of our streamlined strengths-based recruitment process. As a business, we recognised that although change can prove to be difficult, we wanted to re-evaluate the way we recruited talent to our contact centre team and remain at the forefront of the industry.

Filling vacant roles in a sector with a notoriously high employee turnover can certainly be challenging at times, and it is our duty as responsible employers to not only fill positions and ensure the business runs effectively, but that the candidates we recruit are the right people and will get as much out of it, both personally and professionally, as they put into the business.

Both financially and productively, the importance of hiring the right people the first time around is crucial. Research conducted in 2014 by Oxford Economics revealed that the costs of recruiting replacement members of staff to be as much as £30,614 per employee. The figure is based on the combined logistical costs of recruiting and absorbing a new worker, and the lost output a company experiences during the period of time the new worker is ‘settling in’.

The report unveiled that, on average, workers take 28 weeks to reach optimum productivity which has an attached cost of £25,181 per employee.

Over the past 18 months, we have been working with business psychologists Capp to implement a strengths-based recruitment process within our business structure. In short, this allows us to assess body language, scenarios and group work to nurture applicant success and help ensure the right people are filling our roles.

It almost goes without saying that in order to achieve a successful career in the industry; our employees need to have an abundance of core skills such as: strong customer focus, the ability to work under pressure and be highly agile and adaptable. These are the skills we look for in our candidates and what we need to identify as we undergo the recruitment process. We feel in order to have a successful business, our employees need to love what they do from the word go, and naturally be suited to the role with strengths already in place.

As a result, we no longer look closely at someone’s work history but are much more interested in their core skills and where they could best fit into our organisation, whether it is in our contact centre or in a more senior role – to benefit both parties.

The recruitment process is broadly divided into three key areas: the initial application, a telephone interview and the final assessment centre and there are three aspects we look for – strength, performance and energy. Key assessment signals might include whether applicants are using passionate language; what their body language is doing; and whether they are smiling or speaking quietly.

Given the demanding nature of the role, our assessment centres need to replicate the experience of the contact centre role. By using exercises, similar to speed dating, it recreates a really similar atmosphere to a contact centre, which are noisy, busy environments. Naturally if an applicant looks out of place at the assessment centre, the role is not suitable for them.

The impact of using strengths-based recruitment is already having a profound effect within the business. Almost 93 per cent of our assessors said they felt the new recruits were more highly engaged during the training and picked it up quicker, whilst 100 per cent of its assessors agreed the strengths-based approach was more effective, saying they could differentiate between low, average and high performance easier; identify candidates who are a good fit for the contact centre role; and ensure the new hires would be an asset to the business.

As we move into our busiest time of year in the run up to Christmas, ensuring we have highly motivated, talented and enthusiastic employees is vital to guarantee our customers receive outstanding customer care, as well as looking more inwardly to ensure they all find their role enjoyable and are in a career they look to progress going forwards.

 

Domestic & General is the market-leading appliance care provider for household appliances and consumer electronics in the UK. The company takes the worry out of appliance breakdowns for over 16 million customers and carried out over two million repairs last year alone.

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