VoIP enhances Hobsons Bay customer service

New systems let City Council implement queues and call backs into customer service phone line.

A transition from analog to IP telephony in mid-2011 enhanced the Hobsons Bay City Council’s ability to communicate with constituents. Customer service manager, Suzanne Paterson, said the council plans to add Web chat to open a further channel for customer interaction.

Before the transition, the west Melbourne council Was using an outdated switch-based telecom system. It required the council to request help from its telco whenever it needed to make any change, Paterson told Computerworld Australia.

“Any small glitches within the system we were constantly having to go back to our service provider,” costing time and money, she said.

“With the old technology came old [customer service] practices for using phone systems,” Paterson said.

“People were using their voicemail on their mobile phones” rather than the phone system and there were “old setups that didn’t really facilitate much capacity for change,” she said. Making matters worse were inconsistent practices across different departments, she said.

“I just wanted it to be one cohesive system that made it more user friendly for us,” she said. She sought better presence management and enhanced directory services. For customer service, Paterson sought to implement call recording and monitoring capabilities to improve training. She also wanted better reporting for performance management, she said.

Paterson said there was some “trepidation” to moving to a VoIP system among users, but not management. “From a management perspective, we were well and truly ready to be moving on.” Users had to be taught to access the telephone through the computer and how to use added IP-enabled features that didn’t exist previously, she said.

Through a tendering process, the council considered about five different IP telephony systems, Paterson said. The council chose a SIP and VoIP service by Interactive Intelligence because of its functionality and strong support, she said. Cost was a factor—and the system has provided ongoing savings—but that was not a “primary reason” for the selection, she said.

The IP phone system was turned on in March 2011. “The cut over to the call centre went smoothly,” with only minor administrative challenges related to managing people’s expectations, Paterson said.

For “the rest of the organisation, because it was a new tool, we really needed to have people holding their hands” and Interactive Intelligence “did a great job doing that,” she said.

Paterson said a strong indicator of the new phone system’s success has been how well it’s integrated into the council’s business: “People see it as a tool rather than an inconvenience.”

The IP-based system has allowed Hobsons Bay to implement queues and call backs to better handle large volumes of calls, Paterson said. Customers are “delighted” with the call-back feature, she said. “The reason people like it is that you’re not often offered that option.”

The system’s reporting capabilities have been a major boon, she said. “We have a lot more access to information than we previously had.” An unexpected benefit has been “a better understanding of how a telephony system can inform business decisions across the organisation,” she said. “For instance, we’ve looked at what time calls come into the organisation and adjusted staffing appropriately.”

The council plans to add Web chat to its customer service channels later this year in response to an “increasing number of requests coming through our customer service inbox,” Paterson said.

“We’re creating a little online team that will provide that opportunity for customer service officer to handle an online request in exactly the same way as if someone came to the counter” or called in, she said. Paterson expects the Web option to “open up a different audience,” including customers who may be multitasking in the office, she said.

Paterson said the Council is looking at videoconferencing as well, but she hasn’t yet seen significant demand. “We’ll dip our toes in the water with the Web chat and see how our response goes there.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags ip telephonyvoipphonecustomer serviceinteractive intelligencesiplocal governmentcity councilHobsons Bay

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