When the New Zealand Automotive Association (NZAA) call centre turned into the weatherman and traffic reporter for many of its members, the company's CIO and its communications manager decided it was time to let their operators take some more important calls.
Speaking at the Avaya Connect conference in Sydney, NZAA telecommunications manager David Francis told delegates of the difficulties he and his staff had once had in dealing with calls from Association members interested only in driving conditions and road closures: "There was a huge volume of calls ... tying up staff that should have been handling front line business," he said.
According to Francis, representatives who should have been handling duties such as insurance claims had also become inundated with other calls like drivers' licence enquiries until the Association began its ongoing overhaul of client contact practices in 2004 — a scheme which has led to the automation of a substantial amount of its communication with members via self-service calls and the Web.
As part of the overhaul, the Association — whose voice network is handled by Telstra — employed an Avaya interactive voice response system to host a road closures and warning service, which Francis said "removed a lot of non mission-critical calls from the queue".
"It's cut a lot of those calls to operators so they can get back to what they should be doing: handling breakdowns," he said.
The voice-enabled self-service system also established an after-hours roadside assistance alert — directing calls to subcontractors handling breakdowns outside of NZAA repair truck hours.
"We were and still are looking to increase self-service as much as possible," said Doug Wilson, NZAA CIO, adding that one of the greatest challenges the Association faced in its communications revamp was maintaining its traditional image as a reliable service while doing as much as it could to automate customer contact.
Even after implementing its new automated call service system, the Association still faced significant rostering problems with contact staff on its busy days, particularly during peak hours for member claims following weekends and holidays. The staffing crunch spurred Francis and Wilson to employ a small remote workforce in 2007 to support centre-based staff at these times.
"It costs under NZ$80 a month to set up and maintain a home-based network for an agent," said Francis, using an Avaya system which allows remote workers to "plug into the [NZAA] corporate system" temporarily using either a home broadband connection and handset, or remote virtual private network handset for workers taking calls outside of home.
The telecommunications manager said that while productivity rose substantially through the Association's use of remote workers, "tech support proved to be a problem", given the obvious difficulty in fixing a home system promptly, with some staff forced offline "for 24 hours or more" while waiting for their system to be fixed.
NZAA CIO Wilson said that despite automating a large amount of its member enquiries and services through ICT, it would not lead to the reduction of existing physical branches, saying: "We know we still have a lot of people who want to use far more traditional ways of talking to us, and we'll continue to be there for them."