Member Resources & Library

Enjoy a trusted place where you can easily find solutions. See below for a sample of our articles and resources. Register and log in above to see a wider range. Forum Members have access to the full library by logging in. If you see a message that says an article does not exist, try logging in to view it.
If you do not have the access you expect or if you need help with your password, please email

Looking beyond the contact centre

Published on 22 February 2023

Looking beyond the contact centre

We’ve looked in previous chapters at a rising tide of change, in customer behaviour and colleague working lives, that arises from rapid digital transformation and our pandemic experience. Where do we look for planning and insight methodologies to support us in tackling this? Well, we may imagine it as a set of new challenges, but in fact not every problem needs to be seen as a new problem and there are methods used in other areas that can give us a kick start. For instance, mature backoffice teams are already joining up data and customer journeys, a challenge that comes into fresh focus with the growth of digital channels. Experienced people from contact centres are pioneering new approaches in field and branch planning. There is a real opportunity to cross-fertilise across teams that face different challenges and hence different approaches.

The operational excellence framework

As the author Ernest Yeboah wrote, “people do notable things when they take notice of the unnoticed … they look beyond what we all see”. At The Forum, we have lively, specialist network groups for digital, back office, field and branch or retail operations, some brilliant awards case studies, and a growing number of teams that are part of the Planning Pioneers Group in our Standards Benchmarking and Accreditation. I want to share some of the learning that has come out of these areas recently. This is an opportunity for both planning and insight. Indeed there are great opportunities for quality or knowledge and change teams as well.

One valuable method is to evolve your own maturity matrix, or operational excellence framework. At Capita, the team planning for clients in the life and pensions sector won Planning Team of the Year in 2021. Because they work across many clients, with different stakeholders, a common framework helps focus areas for improvement and cross-fertilise. Typically the framework is a matrix, that takes key areas down the rows, and spells out four levels of maturity across the columns. The Standards Framework at The Forum is a great resource, but the team at Capita took the detail down so it was easy to use with stakeholders. They could tick off each capability in a way that felt simple, objective, and insightful. So, now the team is increasingly valued for advice and operational consultancy and, as a result, over two years they saw First Point Resolution double and NPS rise a massive 40 points.

Unlock the value of your data

Changes like this are evident in quite different types of operation. The Branch Planning Team at Lloyds Banking Group, also award winners in 2021, support a massive network of 1,500 branches and 16,000 colleagues. Using data to increase operational visibility has been key to success, plus a unique partnership with local accountability and resourcing champions by brand and area. NPS and demand-supply match have both risen 10% and 20% fewer customers wait more than four minutes. This role of planning professionals, as improvement champions, is a growing trend. No longer are we just a team that gets jobs done or maintains a system. As a result we earn a seat at the table for key decisions but of course we are only as good as the latest improvement!

In insight and analysis too, a growing network of pioneers are delivering immense value as they extend their reach into different kinds of operations. For instance, at Johnson’s Controls (award finalists this year), operational leaders are focussed on the levers that really drive performance, with one simple dashboard that replaces 57 reports from a wide range of systems. At Openreach (award winners in 2020), over 3,500 days of engineer time were saved with Decision Tree Machine Learning algorithms that prevented the need for many pre-visit site inspections, a massive help to the acceleration of Full Fibre roll out in the UK. At Anglian Water (award winners in 2019) data science has driven significant cost efficiencies in the field operation. 14 guiding principles support a culture that encourages exploration, across a decentralised federation of insight across the business.

Back office and digital

The back-office innovation at Legal & General (award winners in 2020) was a partnership between Planning, Operations and Transformation teams. Turnround times halved, with productivity up 32% and a 13% rise in colleague satisfaction. Their methodology for change communication provided certainty and clarity in a fast-changing area, well worth a look given our experiences of change and uncertainty since the start of the pandemic. The dedicated workflow planning team is taking best practice across different operations in the business, rather like at Capita. In particular they are optimising end-to-end processes from a resource perspective and established clear process and responsibilities for accurate handle times and resourcing models. This layers up to business level, using pyramid principles.

Within the network group BGL have demonstrated how to adapt data and planning approaches to different kinds of operation, from complaints to admin or Quality Assurance. In some areas work activity and time is tracked in a workflow system, in others imported, so that this becomes the master source for reporting. At Santander, a long-established user of workflow management, their experience has helped them in driving the use of robotics and automation to become really rapid and agile in standing up new services during the pandemic. What’s more, it’s been brilliant to see so much progress in establishing planning in the back office by many students on our specialist Assisted Learning Programme (ALP) and network group.

Field planning innovation

In field operations, geographical optimisation and a significant cost base is attracting experienced professionals to pioneer new approaches and systems. At Severn Trent Water (award finalists this year), a new level of capability on data and analytics is driving improvements across the planning cycle and increasing the appetite of business leaders to invest more. Resource efficiency is up 20% in Water Networks and job time build is down by a quarter, to achieve the best results ever. A focus on work in progress is also driving an increase in proactive work completion. At British Gas (award finalists this year, the power of planning was released by really engaging stakeholders, and for planners the AI tool, R-Shiny, proved a gamechanger. This helps them iterate agile models fast, even with huge, layered detail, and integrate to EXCEL. All this is part of a wider programme of end-to-end planning across all parts of British Gas. 

At Sky Home Service (award finalists this year), work zone mapping and a bespoke algorithm for opening and closing appointment slots has created a 25% increase in available slots in one line of business, and cut travel time, making a major cost saving. Planners are consistently engaging with engineers to understand their needs, offer flexibility and look at working patterns that can raise diversity in future engineer recruitment. Joining up the data was a key success factor here too. At British Engineering Services (award winners in 2019), flexible resourcing and strategic use of planning in pricing, doubled sales and raised month-end service by 50%. The new field WFM system transformed visit schedules, with strong engagement by the team to break down traditional territory boundaries.

Field operations are significant in many sectors of courses, from housing maintenance to social care. In Health, the consequence of failing to meet appointments are sharp if you don’t visit to replace a drip or an ambulance doesn’t arrive when needed. This level of risk focusses planning on layers of flexibility in skilled resource (hard to replace or train up at short notice). Furthermore, at Yorkshire Ambulance (award winners in 2020), they are now looking to protect vital skills via a career development framework and longterm skills planning. This is happening because core planning principles have transformed the emergency service across Yorkshire, creating 130 FTE efficiency, and saving £2m in overtime payments, through demand-led planning.

A common language and framework

To support cross fertilisation we need to establish a common language and link this into the common framework for planning and insight that is provided by our Planning Cycle and Improvement Cycle at The Forum. We also need to make visible the levels of detail that represent the key drivers or cost, performance, or budget outcomes. So, it’s good for us to understand all four of the main types of capacity models for different operations.

The most familiar may be on-demand, for work like call handling or live chat. With Erlang’s formulae, or a variant, we estimate the available time that needs to be reserved, to get (say) 80% of calls answered in 20 secs. This service level goal has a direct impact on costs. The way the maths works out, economies of scale become very important which has tended to drive a lot of multiskilling. Yet few members have really evaluated this goal against what actually matters to the customer, so this is a long-overdue task. Also, a target that is an average can easily drive the wrong behaviour, especially if you try to ‘catchup’ against an artificial target by over performing later in the month or year.

By contrast, in traditional back-office work, you are managing queues of work (‘backlogs’) that can wait, often at least 24 hours. It’s the same for emails and many digital work queues, perhaps with faster turnaround expectations, which we call a service tolerance. This has a totally different mathematical effect on budget, compared to ‘service level’, and economies of scale are not the same. With a large group, or a long tolerance, you may not need to reserve ‘available time’ to protect service, and you may need to allow ‘downtime’ in your shrinkage. Be careful how you set tolerances and distinguish between internal and external requirements. If you don’t deliver within the time you promised a customer, they will likely contact you to chase, and feel let down. However, internal stretch targets are a totally different matter and can drive the wrong activity.

The fourth model takes account of travel time and geography, for field operations. Average travel time can be added to average handle time for your highlevel capacity model but be aware that it is driven by very different factors, so you control it in quite different ways. For instance, travel time will be an output from decisions you make about boundaries between areas and job allocation rules. As we saw at Sky a new algorithm saved several minutes of travel time, amounting to a massive cost saving on their scale of operation. Our learning modules will explain the process and calculations in more detail, if you want to understand this, and include some practical interactive exercises.

Prepare for the digital shift

The third model represents our opportunity to create a more strategic flexibility in all kinds of customer operation. What you are looking for is work that can be used to fill in quieter times and be deferred for long periods in busier times. This needs to be of definite value, not work for works sake. With the digital shift and the importance of data, we will need many more data checks and updates, in order for automation to be effective, and some human sense checking or QA of AI algorithms. Furthermore, as digital work queues grow, with channel shift, we see that the need for human intervention remains, even with referral from automated BOTs or self-service. Therefore, the more you can identify value work of this kind, the more flexibility becomes inherent in your operating model. This is part of your strategic toolkit for flexibility.

When we can keep all these models in balance, we have a common language and can see our operating models more holistically, allowing us to create different multi-channel scenarios for cross-skilling and work blending. This will require a clear head and excellent planning skills, but it takes our planning capability to the next level. At the strategic planning stage, for instance, we can start to make complex models feel simple for key stakeholders and decision makers. This is a huge step forward in being prepared for a volatile and uncertain world. And, while the impact of online on retail stores and branches is an open question, we’ve seen more cross-skilling over the pandemic than we ever imagined. It would be a bold person who says that merging roles and functions is not part of the future for many operations in the future.

There are several steps we need to build on here. First, we need to model and describe different operations in a common language. That way, not every problem seems like a new problem, and we can see the crosslinks. Then we need to build playbooks that embed key resource assumptions and practices, such as our cross and up-skilling plans. When we do this we can have confidence that the plan is realistic and can put in to operation. Finally, we need to ensure that our highlevel assumptions layer down to detail and granularity. That way we can be sure we are encompassing all the key drivers that impact the important outcomes. As we explore pioneering approaches, are we taking the opportunity to cross-fertilise and learn from teams in different types of customer operations and sector, each shaped by their own unique and different challenges?

Author: Paul Smedley & Alison Conaghan

This article was first published in the 2022 Best Practice Guide - You Moment of Truth: Confident to Succeed

To download a full digital copy of the Best Practice Guide, click here

Comments (0)Number of views (127)