Workforce management provides winning formula for Bell Canada

Bell Canada revamped its call center processes using a workforce management tool. Despite many changes, managers continue to use the tool to efficiently manage and schedule staff.

TORONTO -- Not many companies as big as Bell Canada are still using the call center software they implemented 15 years ago, but today the company remains a happy customer of IEX TotalView, the workforce management system that vastly modernized the call center for Canada's leading telecommunications company.

Fifteen years ago, Bell Canada had more than 100 call centers scattered across Canada, each with local agents answering the phone. The centers were so localized that a caller could give the agent his address and the agent might know the owner of the corner store in that neighborhood. Call center managers used a paper and pencil for scheduling agents, and each call center operated on its own rules. The company had no service level agreement (SLA) for agents to follow.

"We were really archaic," Carla Blake, manager of client experience at Bell Canada, said in a session at ICCM Canada in Toronto last week. "Forget SLA for our customers. We had small call centers only open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., unless we had a call center meeting, in which case we were not open."

Bell Canada decided it was time to revamp call center processes using a workforce management (WFM) tool. The company implemented IEX TotalView in 26 call centers in Ontario. A number of business drivers lay behind the WFM implementation. The company was hoping to improve customer satisfaction with more access and consistent service, make scheduling of agents and agent monitoring more efficient, and improve the overall resiliency of the call center by allowing calls to be redirected if one site was unavailable.

"At the time, we were looking for a tool that would allow for a single server application that would accommodate a networked ACD environment [and be] available to us 24/7," Blake said.

Over the years, many things in the company have changed, but Bell Canada still uses IEX TotalView in the call center, although it has upgraded a number of times. In 2003, the company expanded the tool to call centers in Quebec, where it had to consider new language requirements. Bell upgraded to the new bilingual version of IEX TotalView to support English and French speakers in both areas. @28451

Through the years, the tool has allowed the contact center to adapt to changing business requirements and scope, Blake said.

Today, Bell Canada operates fully networked contact centers within each province of Canada. Twenty-two offices in Ontario and Quebec are running IEX TotalView 3.8.05. The company has a centralized WFM system, so each call center operates with common business processes and systems for scheduling agents.

All of these changes occurred as the company grew vastly. Bell Canada is now part of Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), which provides communication services to 28 million residential and business customers across Canada. Along with a number of other business units, BCE operates Bell Canada Local Service, Bell Mobility wireless service, ExpressVu digital satellite television service, and Sympatico high-speed Internet service.

As Blake pointed out in her presentation before a group of roughly 30 call center agents and managers at the ICCM show, Bell's before-and-after picture may look great, but in between was a barrage of pain and resistance during the project.

"Have a vision of the company and where you want it to go," Blake said. "I'm not going to say it's easy, because it's really, really hard. Not everyone is going to be happy, but [you'll be] moving forward."

When Bell Canada moved to the networked call centers, there was also resistance from customers. They were used to calling and speaking to a local agent, whereas after the change they would call and could be connected to any agent in Canada.

The real reason for Bell Canada's success with the TotalView WFM tool, according to Blake, has been the 6,450 active agents using it. Technology may have enabled the changes, but it was the call center agents who put successful processes into place, she said. Throughout the project, Bell solicited key employees to act as super users who shared best practices throughout the call center, conducted focus groups, and surveyed employees with questionnaires to solicit feedback.

"A product doesn't change anything. It's the people that change it," Blake said. "I can have a very fancy washing machine at home, but if I don't use it, [I'm missing out]."

Following the implementation, Bell Canada used new functionality to analyze its agent scheduling. By reviewing the schedules, call center managers realized that many agents called in sick the day after Labor Day, the busiest day of the year for the company. Managers realized that these agents wanted to be home to send their children off to the first day of school. Soon, many managers realized that they could schedule some agents to come in an hour later in the morning, which made things easier for managers and agents alike.

"For an agent, the schedule is everything. Make sure you're a human face to those agents," said Anne Fisher, a senior consultant at BCE Elix, a consultancy that worked on the WFM project at Bell Canada. "Sometimes, it was the littlest thing that we had the power to do [to make them happy]."

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