Agenda item

Digitalisation of the Contact Centre


Dan Kennedy, Corporate Director of Resources, and Louise Forster, Head of Customer Access, presented the report to the Select Committee.


Members heard that Hillingdon was committed to being a digital-enabled, modern, well-run Council. Since its launch in 2021, new technology had been introduced to support residents with their use of My Account. It was reported that 40% of contacts were now handled with new technology. The next phase of development would cover three areas – waste, housing repairs and social care.


Members were advised that the contact centre had access to a wealth of information regarding resident contacts; this information was being used to create a more efficient and digitally oriented service. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) had been brought in to pull together 28 different stories that could be digitalised, and My Account would be centred around these stories covering all services. It was acknowledged that this was a challenge as the contact centre received some 15,000-16,000 calls per month and had recorded 1700 different reasons for calls in 2022 alone.


It was confirmed that the Council had worked with PWC to introduce Amazon Web Services (AWS). The first service for which AWS had been introduced was Housing Repairs as this service received the highest volume of calls. PWC had led the project with input from contact centre staff and the first AWS service had gone live in November 2022. Under the new system, residents were asked why they were contacting the Council and, where possible, a response would be provided or a link to the online system to enable the resident to report the issue. If residents could not access the online system, they would still be given an option to speak to someone in the contact centre. Following the successful introduction of the AWS system for Housing Repairs, the new AWS system had now gone live for all Council services. As a result of these changes, contact centre staffing had reduced by 17 posts.


Members were reassured that support would be provided to residents experiencing difficulties with the technology or with setting up My Account. The offer of support was also being rolled out in libraries and the aim was to provide a wrap-around support service to encourage residents to adopt the new approach. Councillors welcomed the introduction of support services in libraries.


In response to questions from Members regarding issues encountered by residents and how these were addressed, it was confirmed that now was the time for reflection and review. Emergency housing repairs calls were directed immediately to an agent while routine queries could be dealt with online. It was recognised that residents sometimes failed to speak hence technology was being explored to manage the silence and give people options. The contact centre had an assisted list of people who consistently struggled with the system and these residents would be automatically passed to an agent. Moreover, AWS was being updated to recognise some of the specific vocabulary regularly used by residents such as ‘Locata’.


In response to further questioning, Councillors were informed that the AWS system could identify and channel similar requests; for example, if a query related to heating, the system would ask for a postcode and direct the caller to the correct company accordingly. Members heard that housing repairs used direct labour in addition to support contractors and specialist service contractors. The system was being enhanced to ensure calls went directly through to the appropriate department/company.


Members sought further clarification regarding the systems in place to deal with an emergency or cyber-attack. It was confirmed that the Council used ‘Anchor’ to provide a contracted out of hours service. Anchor took the calls when the contact centre closed and provided back up if the systems went down for any reason.


Councillors enquired how the AWS system helped those with disabilities or a language need. Members were advised that, if the system failed to understand someone, the call would be passed through to the contact centre. The option of inputting individuals into the AWS system so they went directly through to an agent was being explored. In respect of language barriers, it was confirmed that a translation / interpreter service was available in the Council, but people often asked a family member or friend to help them when making a call. A translation service through AWS was being considered but there would be a cost involved.


In response to Members’ questions, it was confirmed that a live chat bot system was already in place to assist people online. Artificial intelligence technology was also being explored. Councillors were advised that the Council was keeping an open mind about providers noting that it was important not to be dependent on or locked in to one provider.


Further information regarding waiting times and the number of abandoned / redialled calls was sought by Members. The option of a survey at the end of the call was suggested to obtain feedback from residents. In response to this, Members were informed that the AWS system answered all calls immediately. It was confirmed that call numbers had decreased since the introduction of the AWS system and waiting times had reduced to approximately four minutes. The aim was to encourage the majority of residents to go online when possible so the contact centre agents could take calls from the more vulnerable residents.  


The Committee Members heard that the new system had been successfully stress tested prior to implementation in November 2022. Contact centre staff were responsible for building the forms and adding them to the website hence these could be updated as required. Dynamic messaging ensured messages were kept up to date.


Given the reduction in library opening times and cost of living pressures, Councillors sought clarification as to the contingencies in place to ensure inclusion. It was confirmed that support through community groups and workshops was available for those who lacked confidence or required assistance with technology. This would be kept under review.


Members noted that it would take time for residents to become accustomed to the new system and recognised the importance of assistance provided in libraries. A continuous programme of public education was essential.


Members were invited to visit the contact centre on a site visit at a convenient time.


RESOLVED: That the Finance and Corporate Services Select Committee noted the update set out in the report to improve the resident experience and efficiency in meeting needs, using new digital technologies.

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