With three recent acquisitions and the release of new 1TB plans, the number of customer phone calls iiNet has had to take in its call centres has increased significantly. iiNet has kept up thanks to proactive social-media monitoring and a legion of home-based customer support representatives (CSRs) that are proving to be more productive, and produce happier customers, than their office-bound peers.
Matthew Toohey (Credit: Genesys)
Backed by a host of call management technologies, remote workers have proven invaluable to the rapidly expanding internet service provider, which recently acquired around 113,000 customers of AAPT's consumer division for $60 million, all of Netspace's customers for $40 million and Westnet's for $81 million.
The AAPT acquisition boosted the number of iiNet contact centre employees to nearly 2100, spread across facilities in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and an outsourced site in the Philippines. But it is the 150 home workers, connected over highly-shaped pipes that provide seamless telephony and secured access to iiNet's back-end systems, that have proven to be shining stars in terms of sheer effectiveness.
Home workers are handling 8 per cent more calls than their office-bound peers and have delivered higher sales conversion figures — 37 per cent compared to 31 per cent, according to iiNet IT manager Matthew Toohey. Absenteeism is just 4 per cent, compared with 6 per cent among the larger population. And home-based employees leave customers happier, with mean net promoter scores (NPS) of 50, compared with 43 among the office-based workers. NPS scores are derived from customer-provided ratings in response to emails sent out after every query.
Toohey conceded that the figures may be somewhat self-selecting, since the keenest employees are often the ones willing to work from home. Yet with the team deeply ingrained as part of iiNet's corporate culture, the ability to let them work from home has not only helped shape peak demand but saved the company considerable amounts of money.
"If we were to build a 150-seat contact centre in Sydney or Perth, it would cost us a couple of million dollars to build it and run it for two or three years," Toohey explains. "We leveraged our existing IT assets [to support remote workers] so there is no incremental cost increase."
The decision to experiment with remote workers as a formal part of its workforce didn't come out of the blue, however; with central-Perth office space priced at a premium or simply unavailable due to a rush of mining interests into the city, iiNet had to figure out an alternative.
"We looked at work from home as an opportunity to address that, as well as another issue: it gives us access to a recruitment pool that we would not normally touch," says Toohey.
"It made it viable for us to bring on people who only wanted to work, say, three hours a day."
Remote workers are set up with Voice over IP-enabled laptops or thin clients sourced from iiNet's disaster recovery spares, and are connected to iiNet's network over ADSL connections and secure virtual private networks that give them access to internal support tools. Customer calls are routed to their desktops by iiNet's Genesys contact-centre system.
"For call routing purposes, the system doesn't actually know they're remote," Toohey said. "It just appears as though they're in the office, and that they have that particular extension. And customers have no idea that the reps aren't sitting in a grade one contact centre environment."
Social media has proved equally important to help iiNet keep up with its customers' expectations, with staff regularly using instant messaging to keep in touch. More recently, the company has moved to embrace Twitter with a social media team that monitors the busy social-updates network as well as Facebook and telecoms community site Whirlpool — where CEO Michael Malone is a regular.
"They're online almost constantly, and very passionate and good at what they do," says Toohey.
The trend to embrace social media has become more pronounced in recent years as a shift to the Twittersphere, and customers' expectation of more rapid response from their service providers, boosts the imperative for companies to respond more quickly. Telstra and Optus, among others, now monitor social-media channels on a regular basis, and Telstra recently revealed it was also embracing remote workers as it ramps up its customer-service focus and shifts to providing 24/7 support.