Inform Communications relationship with the City of Edinburgh Council stretches back eight years. Starting with the integration of a self-service telephony system into the Revenue & Benefits department, our collaboration has grown in scope and scale. We are now on the brink of launching the Council’s first intelligent ChatBot service.
- Answered more than 2 million customer enquiries
- Successfully handled 41% of all calls coming into the system
- Performed the work of 13.4 full-time employees
- Generated annual savings of £280,329
“Inform have built a stable and successful system – any required changes are turned around quickly and they are never just reactive, they always offer a professional input.”
Before Inform’s involvement, the CEC faced several challenges.
“Our principal concern,” says CEC Customer Service Manager, Neil Jamieson, “was the poor customer experience. The customer journey just wasn’t what it could have been. More specifically, the volume of contact we were receiving was tough to handle. We had long wait times, high abandonment rates, and users not being in front of the right agents at the right time.”
At the same time, the Council was also trying to navigate the challenges associated with tight budgetary restraints. Like many in both the public and private sectors, they were being asked to do more with less.
“On the one hand, we want to improve the customer experience, but we also have to make a significant amount of savings,” continues Neil.
Inform were approached to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory demands.
For CEC, two of the most appealing aspects of Inform’s service provision were their ability to work closely with clients and their considerable experience providing customer service solutions to public sector organisations across the UK.
As Chris Owen, CEO at Inform explains,
“This experience stems from operating until 2005 as an outsourced contact centre with over 100 agents serving a variety of busy councils throughout the UK. Since then we have morphed into an organisation specialising in automated response services that continually draws on the expertise gained in operating as a “live” contact centre. Consequently, we are big fans of automation, but we are also big fans of experienced advisors and our job is to optimise the performance of both through the clever use of smart automation.”
Neil continues: “In large part, we chose Inform because they’re incredibly responsive and experienced, the team knows the business, and they know what we’re trying to do. They know the challenges we face.”
Having delivered customer service solutions to public sector organisations for more than 30 years, Inform has acquired unparalleled insight into how contact centres operate and have evolved. Our expertise isn’t defined by a single technology, but by an understanding of the constraints, stresses, challenges, and demands of those organisations we work with.
For us, it’s not just about the implementation of automation technology. It’s about our ability to leverage our experience and expertise to create customer service solutions that meet our clients’ specific operational needs and improve their service provision.
For Neil Jamieson, a choice of partner can’t be solely determined by the technical product they provide.
“Inform was an appropriate choice because it was also essential for the CEC to work with an organisation that understands what you’re trying to achieve, and that is responsive to your needs.”
The CEC’s reputation as an innovative and forward-thinking local authority meant that it was willing to embrace customer service automation technologies as a potential solution. Initially, the Council partnered with Inform to develop and implement a self-serve telephony system for Revenue & Benefits enquiries. This was introduced in February 2011 and has remained in continuous use since then, successfully answering approximately 2 million calls in the process.
Inform were tasked with developing a self-serve system that allowed for intuitive and easy use and ensured that the Council’s most common customer complaints were addressed. This meant reducing wait times, ensuring customers got to the right human agent at the first time of asking, implementing self-serve options for high-volume enquiries, and affecting greater channel shift towards the website and other digital resources.
This initial integration was a resounding success and, since then, the self-serve system has been extended to other departments, most notably Environmental & Waste and Highways.
“However,” Chris explains, “we believe that implementation represents the first step in an ongoing process and the beginning of a long-term relationship. Our ability to fine-tune, adapt, and continually optimise existing services, while also advising on new technologies, is one of our greatest strengths. We aren’t just a product. We’re a partner.”
For the CEC, this aspect of Inform’s service provision is one of the reasons our customer service solutions are so effective.
Neil Jamieson explains: “Inform is an approachable, responsive, and proactive organisation… If there is an issue, they are on the phone straight away. They are visible and very present.”
Over the years, we’ve worked on fine-tuning the Council’s scripts and on responding to new types of query and emerging challenges.
“There’s a professionalism at Inform that allows us to make changes effectively because they can make hints, steers, and recommendations based on their experience in the industry,” continues Neil.
While we regularly offer our expertise and advise the Council, we also understand that each organisation operates in a distinct set of circumstances and faces unique challenges. With this in mind, we prioritise a two-way discourse. This approach has worked particularly well for the CEC.
Neil Jamieson emphasises that “employees are heavily involved in the reviewing of our calls and scripts and that’s something Inform have been very happy to support.”
Inform’s work with the CEC has expanded in scope and scale over eight years:
Currently, the Council receives a total of 398,500 calls a year. The Inform self-serve system successfully handles 163,500. That is 41% of all calls to the Revenue & Benefits, Environmental & Waste, and Highways departments and equates to the work of 13.4 full-time employees. In total, the net annual saving accrued by the system for the Council is valued at £280,329.
These figures represent the financial argument for our self-serve system. However, there are other benefits, too.
“People are happy to self-serve,” says Neil Jamieson. “In many cases, they prefer it to being forced to speak to a human agent. The system also ensures that callers not only get through to the right agent but talk to a prepared agent, improving the quality of response. If employees know where a call is coming from and what the query is going to be, they’re set up for that contact – it’s a case of how can we make call performance as effective and tight as possible.”
Finally, it relieves the strain on the contact centre staff. As Neil Jamieson explains:
“If there’s no self-serve telephony system, there’s no channel shifting into the website and employees are just dealing with an endless amount of calls – and they feel the pressure straight away.”
In the case of Inform’s long-standing relationship with the CEC, the most exciting developments may be just around the corner. The Council will soon be integrating one of our Chatbot solutions into their Revenue & Benefits service provision, offering users another means of digital self-service and further reducing the number of telephony enquiries handled by contact centre staff.
While the Chatbot will be tested initially in Revenue & Benefits, Neil Jamieson expects it to roll out across the Council soon. He argues that it has the potential to be applied to any interaction that can be comprehensively scripted and goes on to add that AI technologies like chatbots “are absolutely a growing sector and I expect them to expand into many areas, quite quickly.”
Neil is also clear about the benefits of partnering with Inform as Edinburgh Council look to adapt to the rapid rate of technological change and development in modern society.
“Sometimes,” he explains, “it can be difficult to move forward at pace… so you try and partner with organisations that can help you with that. Inform have the understanding of the business, the technical know-how, and the drive to help build momentum across the organisation.”