Having taken the project from conception to implementation, the unified communications and multi-channel contact centre solution is now up and running at Futures Housing Group and the organisation is already seeing results. In the final piece of his four article mini-series (see Housing Technology, July, September & November 2016 issues, for the previous articles), Gavin Hitchcock, head of ICT at Futures Housing, explains how the business has adopted the changes and looks at what impact the new systems have had.
Back to the start
Now that Futures Housing has been migrated to Microsoft Skype for Business and Enghouse EICC is in place, it’s a great time to reflect on what has been a milestone project for us. Looking back at when we made the business case, the vision for the project was clear – improve internal business operations and communications while offering more choice for customers.
Having reached the point where we are now, where the systems are actually in use, it’s fascinating to think of the journey we’ve been on.
Of course, the project is far from over and we’re already looking at the next phase, but to have persuaded more than 300 people that they don’t need to use their handsets anymore, showed staff how to use new, immersive desktop collaboration tools, introduced instant messaging as a genuine alternative to email, and upgraded our entire communications offering both internally and externally is quite a feat.
Chris Cheetham, Futures Housing’s project lead, said, “This has been a long time coming but in terms of what we’ve done versus what we planned to do, it’s remarkable how focused we’ve been. Only two elements of the whole project were delayed; everything else we completed on time and within budget, which can be considered unusual for a project of this size.
“Over the past year, we’ve ripped out an entire phone system and contact centre to replace it with brand new equipment, and it’s quite satisfying to actually see what we’ve done and watch staff using it successfully with all the benefits it offers – which was basically what the business case was based on.”
The impact on customers has already been felt as we’ve started to introduce them to some of the alternative ways they can deal with us because we capture everything through the new customer contact centre, EICC.
Web chat in particular is snowballing, with around 300 customer enquiries (at the time of writing) having been dealt with through this channel alone since early November 2016 – an encouraging start for an organisation where the phone call was king.
Opening up new channels such as this, and very soon social media, is a huge part of what we’re trying to do in streamlining our services based on what our customers need.
Peter Seaman, Futures Housing’s customer experience manager, said, “Delivering effortless customer experiences is central to our strategy. While it’s still early days, we’re already seeing how that’s possible through the new contact centre system.
“EICC is adding fresh impetus to how we deal with queries across different channels. Traditionally, phone calls have dominated our contact channels, but we’ve already seen that customers are open to alternative methods such as web chat. This is allowing us to handle more interactions and reduce waiting times. We’ll soon be switching on our social media support accounts so we can offer an even broader network of support and customer choice.”
Adoption of EICC by staff on the front line has been superb, with no interruption of service reported for the customer. Already, the team have dealt with 24,000 phone calls and nearly 1,500 emails since the launch of the contact centre, on top of those 300 or so web chats.
Looking ahead, the new contact centre will also enhance the customer experience even further, allowing us to learn more about the people that live in our homes.
With the help of our housing management and CRM partner, Orchard, we’ve made sure that our systems are fully integrated with EICC to enable us to gather data effectively. We’ve been able to make the CRM grab data from the customer at any point so when a customer gets in touch, the Orchard system will begin capturing customer information such as an email address, phone number and social media information and update records as it goes. This allows us to find out more about our customers. Web chats will also soon be pre-authenticated for customers using Futures Housing’s self-service web portal.
A challenge for the project came when looking at the specialist requirements for our own people. An example of this could be seen for a staff member who is hard of hearing which potentially could have been a major roadblock in making sure his experience of using Skype for Business and EICC was consistent with the rest of the organisation.
Jonathan Tomalin is a key part of our procurement team who has a cochlear implant to help with his hearing. For him to do his job, it’s vital that he is able to speak clearly to partners in our supply chain. He said: “The old telephone system was difficult for me to use and it didn’t matter what adjustments I made to the phone or my hearing aids, it was difficult to pick out what was being said.
“About two years ago, I had a cochlear implant fitted in one of my ears to help improve my hearing but that still didn’t improve the sound quality through the old phone.”
After working with our ICT team and Amillan, Jonathan found the new system a breath of fresh air. He said, “I could immediately tell the difference the first time I put the new headphones on with my cochlear implant – it was like the person on the other end of the phone was in the next-door room. Even with my hearing difficulties, it gives me the opportunity to communicate just like everyone else.
“I am very happy with the new system. It has given me back my confidence to talk to others via phone internally and externally without trying too hard to hear the conversation by letting the system do the hard work.”
Patrick Daly from Amillan said, “We’ve developed a great working relationship with Futures, and part of that is getting to know them and understanding exactly what requirements they have in order for everyone to be able to see the advantages that this project offers.
“Taking this example, it was important that we worked through the challenges together to make sure that their experience of the new system was the same as everyone else’s, help them to gain the benefits of increased collaboration tools with their colleagues, and help them work to their full potential.
Laying the foundations
Now that unified communications are alive and well, we’ve had time to pilot the next stage of its evolution. A group of around 15 staff, including our transformation team who carefully analyse all change at Futures Housing, has been testing the technology that will help us to create a truly flexible and ‘remote-ready’ organisation.
Darren Sanderson-Turner, Futures Housing’s business transformation manager, said, “We’ve been working with a new laptop-tablet hybrid and docking station which allow us to maintain IT sessions wherever we are.
“It takes a bit of getting used to, but the ability to just take your whole desktop session around with you is a major time-saver, and with more people using a similar system, it will make collaboration a lot more efficient.”
With a project of this scale, it’s important to have the backing of a senior figure in the organisation. Fortunately for us, our chief executive, Lindsey Williams, has been a supporter of the project from day one.
Lindsey said, “When looking at any major project like this, we always ensure that it will help us achieve our objectives and fits with our core ‘MORE’ values. With unified communications, we felt it matched them perfectly.
“Better technology helps us to make a positive impression (M), everyone using it to collaborate helps us to operate as one organisation (O), more effective communication will help us to reach our potential (R), and it’s clear to see how we’re embracing innovation (E).
“The system we now have provides us with the momentum to deliver against these values and be ready for the future. This has been an excellent investment which has been expertly delivered by our ICT and internal project teams and by our partners at Amillan and Orchard.”
The telephone and contact centre legacy systems have now been decommissioned and replaced with Skype for Business and EICC for more than 300 staff across the group.
The project has taken just over a year and in that time, we rigorously tested more than 100 individual features of the solution, completed 104 training and engagement sessions, and have rolled out 250 new headsets.
Now we are live, we are handling 26,000 contacts via the new multi-channel contact centre, and staff are actively using Skype for Business video conferencing, virtual meetings, desktop collaboration and advanced presence and availability features to revolutionise how we work, improve customer services and deliver organisational efficiencies.
Looking ahead to the second phase of the project, we’re excited to be bringing in IVR, meeting room equipment upgrades and those brand new laptop-tablet hybrid devices that will help make us a truly flexible and mobile organisation.
Gavin Hitchcock is head of ICT at Futures Housing Group.