Implementing unified communications: A social landlord gets nimble

By implementing unified communications collaboration, non-profit social landlord Newport City Homes in South Wales maximises its call centre and finds efficiency.

Newport City Homes (NCH), a non-profit social landlord in South Wales, is implementing unified communications (UC) and collaboration, maximising efficiency in the call centre.

“We were set up in 2009 to take over the City Council's housing stock. Being a new organisation gave the opportunity to bring in new technology to a greenfield site,” NCH network manager Darren Lloyd explained at last week's UC Expo in London.

NCH installed Microsoft's OCS suite of communications tools -- now renamed Lync -- alongside MS Office. The IT team had “no previous skills in telephony,” but was able to make significant changes in that arena since “UC is more about the back-office systems you integrate with than it is about telephony,” said Lloyd.

Who needs a PBX after implementing unified communications?

One of those changes that NCH made in the telephony arena was the choice to avoid a PBX. NCH decided to simplify and optimise its UC system by using USB plug-in Jabra handsets, and headsets from GN Netcom, instead of separate IP phones. Not only do these handsets and headsets provide “fantastic sound quality,” but since they are PC-powered and the PCs connect via standard Ethernet switches, there is no need to buy expensive additional Power over Ethernet switches to support IP phones, Lloyd explained.

Employees didn't necessarily take to the headsets at first, but that quickly changed. Initially, NCH bought 75% handsets and 25% headsets, as people often culturally associate the latter with call centres rather than back -office roles. But once users trusted the sound quality and saw the benefit in freeing up their hands, NCH shifted to 50/50 headsets and handsets.

Employees also grew to trust wireless headsets. “Initially, people thought wireless headsets would be unreliable, but we have dispelled that, and now people who have corded headsets see their colleagues with wireless ones able to get up and move around, and they want that too,” Lloyd said.

Implementing unified communications with presence changes the call centre

NCH's move to implement unified communications and collaboration -- specifically the presence application -- has altered the way its call centre does business. Previously, contact centre agents had to call other employees in various departments until they found one who was available to help. Now, they can see who is available immediately and use instant messaging to get a quick answer for the customer. In fact, they can get multiple questions answered in various departments at once.

“Stress levels have dropped in our call centre,” Lloyd said. His team also “only spends 30% of the time keeping the lights on.”

“We spend 70% developing systems -- we're able to do that because we went down the integrated route,” he said. The next step will be to integrate social media requests and send them to an agent in addition to making phone calls.

When implementing unified communications isn't quite enough for the call centre

NCH's contact centre proved that it needs more than just the basic UC technology. “UC is great, but it didn’t provide our managers with clear enough statistics. For example, busy times, if calls got abandoned, where they got abandoned and so on,” Lloyd said. Therefore, NCH brought Aspect Software's UIP 7 customer contact platform to look after areas such as inbound call routing, relationship management and reporting.

“The contact relationship manager [CRM] is on top of it all, giving one screen for the agents to work from,” Lloyd explained. “It records previous contacts with the tenant so there's no need for the customer to keep repeating their story. The repairs system feeds into it, the telephony system feeds calls into it and so on. Each tenant has a 'patch officer' -- the agent can see their availability immediately -- it's all there in one application. It can link through to Outlook for email too, and you can associate email with a CRM record, for example, by address. We're pretty much in the first stage of Aspect installation, but we've already seen customer waiting times drop 50%.”

However, using Aspect means NCH has separate UC and telephony applications, so it is now working to integrate Aspect with Lync to get back to a single application, said Lloyd.

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