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Trade union helps members more efficiently with virtual contact centre

Prospect Union is setting out to improve its responsiveness and member experience by building an Enghouse virtual contact centre on its Skype for Business installation

Professional workers’ trade union Prospect Union is already realising time and efficiency savings, and has high hopes to improve the service levels it can provide to its members, after upgrading its contact centre capabilities through long-term internet service provider (ISP) partner GCI.

With about 140,000 members, Prospect is not one of the UK’s biggest unions, but it is by some margin the most diverse in terms of the professions it represents, which range from actuaries to zoologists by way of cartographers, environmental scientists, industrial chemists, meteorologists, software engineers, visual effects artists, and many more.

The diversity of its membership, built up through several mergers of different unions, has also resulted in a back-office function scattered across multiple sites, with all that entails in terms of varying IT and communications systems.

“We have ended up with multiple sites and multiple phone systems, the vast majority of them PBXs [private branch exchanges], the oldest 17 or 18 years old,” said Prospect Union’s head of IT, Paul Xuereb. “It was a situation of disjointed organisational growth, and we needed a new phone system.”

A couple of years ago, Xuereb started to tackle the underlying PBX problem with an organisation-wide refresh, and turned to GCI, which has been providing Prospect with internet services for nearly a decade. GCI suggested using Skype for Business – which some internal teams were already using for collaboration – as a PBX.

“There has been a lot of investment in Skype from Microsoft – it’s not an obvious choice for a PBX, but it’s far more palatable,” said Xuereb, who oversaw the migration to a Skype-based PBX over three to four months with, he said, minimal issues apart from some number porting problems.

“One of the good things about using Skype for Business is that we didn’t go to an IP PBX, so we had an advantage because our systems were so old that we could skip a generation,” said Xuereb. This also meant he could do everything with GCI instead of having to deal with new voice over IP (VoIP) suppliers as well.

“The harder sell was people losing their desk phones – they were used to having something to pick up,” said Xuereb.

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With Skype for Business successfully deployed across 17 sites and replacing 12 legacy phone systems for 250 Prospect staffers, Xuereb set to work on adding contact centre capabilities to the communications system. The union had never had a contact centre before, so again this meant Xuereb could select the most cutting-edge technology available, in this case Enghouse’s Interactive Communications Centre (EICC).

Sitting on top of Skype for Business, the virtual contact centre provides Prospect with standard contact centre features such as call queueing and routing, right through to – eventually – a web chat service.

This service is already being used by Prospect’s 25-strong helpdesk team to route incoming calls more appropriately to the right adviser – which could be someone with pension or legal expertise, or a negotiation officer more skilled at representing members’ interests within their employers. Prospect is also working on upskilling all its helpdesk team to be able to answer calls that require more generalist knowledge, such as membership or subscription queries.

“Now, instead of members calling the regional centre nearest to them, they instead get routed straight through depending on the nature of their query,” said Xuereb. “It means they get quicker, more tailored answers and a more personal service. We think it will give our helpdesk staff 20% of their time back and means they can work on other parts of their job when not on calls.”

At the time of writing, the EICC system has not yet gone live across Prospect’s entire organisation. “We wanted to make sure it was bedded in and we could give a good service before doing that,” said Xuereb. “It is an advantage that because it’s a new entity, we can very easily add more load to it as we go along.”

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