Australia Post personalises contact centre engagements

Australia Post looked to Salesforce's service cloud as part of its efforts to improve customer service in its call centres.

Most recently, Australia Post has been implementing a digital approach to its logistics and delivery solutions to cope with the decrease in traditional letter deliveries. Now, the postal delivery organisation has taken a similar approach to enhancing customer service in its call centres.

According to Australia Post direct channels general manager, Brady Jacobsen, for as long as the company's call centres have existed, the personal connection that is formed between front-line staff members — who are working in the stores or delivering the parcels and letters — and the customer has never been achieved in its contact centres.

"We've been dealing with [our customers] anonymously for as long as contact centres have existed, and so, therefore, those personal connections haven't been maintained," he said.

Jacobsen said that the main reason behind this disconnect is due to the platforms that its call centre agents have been using for the last 15 years. He said it was so bad that they were the "worst kits I've seen in my life".

As a result, given that Australia Post had already deployed Salesforce's marketing cloud and sales cloud, it was a natural step for the company to introduce Salesforce's service cloud to help bring the "personal connection" it was after to its contact centres, Jacobsen said.

Australia Post worked with cloud consultancy firm Bluewolf to deploy its service cloud, which was only launched a couple of months ago.

"We expect this is the start of establishing those personal connections of knowing who's calling, knowing the challenges they've had with our products, services, and our brand, and making sure it's as relevant within their community they deal with everyday," Jacobsen said.

"We've started this by making sure we're where our customers are having their conversations, and customers are no longer having their conversations just over the counter or over the phone."

In turn, call centre agents are now able to complete their core transactions of assisting customers help locate their parcels a lot faster. Previously, they had to make 160 clicks to move through different platforms to assist the customer, but that has now been reduced to 11 clicks.

Jacobsen said this result "has done a huge thing for their emotions in making them feel less bored and less annoyed, and it has done some amazing things to their cognitive load where they can now concentrate on the customer rather than concentrate on madly navigating through multiple platforms".

At the same time, the service cloud has provided greater transparency to the company's operations, including successes and failings such as customer complaints. All of the information is delivered through a single dashboard that can be accessed by staff, including those working on the front line through to product managers.

"It's pretty compelling, because it was really hidden and hard to consolidate previously, but now it's quite structured, regularly shared, and shared across the business so any product manager can see the failings of their equivalent in other parts of the organisation. So it creates a level of competition for product managers to deliver really sleek products and services that have minimum customer pain points and failings," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen added that while service cloud was an ideal solution for Australia Post's operations, it wasn't as easily accepted for many of its staff, and admitted to this day that it's still not, making the change management a progressive process. He said that a key part to handling the change management has been empathy.

"You can't just delegate it; they needed to see a huge level of empathy, so we could see what they were going through and help them step by step go through all the changes to the platform we had," Jacobsen said.

"They're still not there yet. The learning for us is it doesn't matter what level of structure you have, you'll still be dealing with that fraction of people trying to deal with change management as best as they can."

Jacobsen admitted that the introduction of service cloud is only one step of the digital transformation the business is undertaking, and that the company will continue to invest heavily in places where it can improve communication with customers. At the moment, its call centres are handling five million transactions per year, and its web channels are handling over 100 million.

"I think if we're out there doing that at least we can make sure that the tools our frontline staff are using are as simple and intuitive as they can so they can maintain those connections," he said.

Australia Post reported that profit after tax for the 2013-14 financial year was AU$116.2 million, down 34.5 percent from last year's result in September. A large part of the decline was due to its mail business seeing significant drop in letter volumes and continued high fixed costs, resulting in operating earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) for its reserved services mail business jumping to a loss of AU$328.4 million.

At the time, Australia Post chief executive Ahmed Fahour said that if urgent changes are not made to the company's operations, the mail delivery business could incur cumulative losses of AU$12.2 billion over the next 10 years.

The pressure has been so great for the government-owned business that during the 2013-14 financial year, it was confirmed that up to 900 jobs will go over the next 12 months as part of the company's plans to restructure. The roles expected to be affected include managerial, administrative, and support from its Melbourne head office and a number of smaller offices in other states.

Aimee Chanthadavong travelled as a guest of Salesforce to Dreamforce '14.

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