Before the tidal wave of customer contacts is upon you, consider why and provide the information prior to agent assistance. With forecasts of initially freeing up 50% of your agent time, now should be the window of opportunity to make your Main Billing less burdensome. Remember that no backlogs does result in the opportunity to improve collection, a benefit in conjunction with the agent release savings you could make.
Every year most councils go through the challenging task of dealing with the significant impact of Main Billing. Whether telephone calls are received in the Call Centre or in the back office, as soon as the bills hit the mat the lines light up and the pressurized cooker feeling commences. For many this continues through to the issue of first Reminder making realistically the first two to three months unbearable.
Revenues and Benefits practitioners are acutely aware that if a backlog is caused the collection rates suffer and the catch up effort is needed throughout the year. Backlogs are caused from the inability to answer telephone calls followed by the inability to answer emails and the inability to deal with queues where walk-in services are provided. This annual challenge is well known for most and yet every year the same pattern occurs.
With FTE reductions as a direct result of budget cuts and restructuring the challenges are increasing year on year.
Many councils have invested significantly in digital provisions and yet customers have not changed their cultural or habitual behaviour in contacting Councils. They still telephone and they still walk in to talk about their query!
The key is to utilise front end Self Service for telephone enquiries and Email gateways. This should always be the first phase customers are greeted with. Most query types are known at Main Billing and preparation to answer these is simple. Smart and intelligent IVR built with the customer requirements in mind and the ability to provide quickly will for most service areas handled between 40%–50% of enquiries. In addition the service should have integrated SMS facilitating links to information and forms playing a key part in the digital shift. With the provision of CLI’s now and the increasing use of smart phones (approximately 65%), the outreach potential at first point of contact is considerable.
Most Councils provide either a blank email provision or an enquiry form, both of which need agent resources to answer and sift through the information to glean what they need. Often a response is needed to obtain further information making the transaction inefficient and costly. Many councils see converting telephone enquiries to emails as part of the efficiency strategy but the resulting double handling makes this actually as costly as talking directly to the customer.
The use of menu based service areas linked to email boxes will reduce the open email handling by up to 80%. Customers often email because they can’t be bothered to search on the web site for the information they need and are not prepared to wait in a queue to be answered. This approach of engaging with the customer digitally can be further enhanced by the use of Chat Bots. These can be built to engage specifically for given service areas, work like the telephone service provision and link to forms easily. Customers can simply ask a question with the service area and be greeted with instant answers and directions to what and where they need to go.
The use of outreach proactive SMS is also a key area councils need to utilise. Pre first reminder texts can save significant print and mailing costs. Benefit notifications are another key area that can be contacted. The first rule is to build the dam to stem the flow of water and the second rule is to deal with why the water is flowing.