Customer service to the fore in Excellence Awards

PlunketLine, Airways New Zealand and NZ Blood Service finalists in the Use of ICT for Customer Service category

No matter how good your offering, if your customer service is poor you’ll miss out.

All three of our finalists in the Excellence in the Use of ICT for Customer Service category, sponsored by Icon Recruitment, showed how simple technologies and systems can work customer-service wonders.

Some years ago, one of our finalists, PlunketLine, made national headlines because of its poor service. It led to the government threatening its very existence and the organisation launching a fight-back project to improve the service.

Our second finalist may not be able to do anything about the wind, which can make take-off and landing unreliable, especially at Wellington Airport, but Airways New Zealand’s web-based system better prioritises the air traffic at airports, which means fewer inconvenienced passengers.

Our third finalist’s job is even more significant — blood supply. There should now be more blood available to our hospitals — and of the right kind — now that NZ Blood Service has implemented a specialised CRM system which improves donor alerts.

Plunket’s baby a success

Two years ago, PlunketLine was leasing call centre seats from Datacom, in Auckland and Wellington, which was also providing the technology platform.

But users were enduring long wait-times, leading to about half of all calls being abandoned. There was also limited IT support from Datacom, staff morale was low and, as a consequence, staff turnover was high.

PlunketLine manager Elaine Macfarlane says Plunket decided the service needed to be brought in-house; it also invested in the latest technology. This led to four call centres, connected by a WAN, being set up. Plunket installed an Avaya telephony solution fitted with Agile CCE and CMS software, plus related applications.

The system allows for queue prioritisation when there is excess demand, and the system’s reporting functions allow better planning of staffing needs.

Now, Plunket claims, 93% of users are happy with the service, which is why more mothers are using it. Call numbers are up 34% on last year, yet waiting times are down nearly two-thirds, from 197 seconds to 76 seconds. The result is that fewer than 10% of calls are now abandoned.

MacFarlane says moving the IT support in-house has also helped because it means staff can work better with IT. They can communicate better with each other, and sit down together and bounce ideas around. The IT department is more committed as a result.

Input from mother volunteers is one of the reasons for the new system’s success — so much so that vendor Agile is happy to use PlunketLine as a success story says MacFarlane.

Wellington mum Colleen Crombie corroborates this. She began using PlunketLine in May 2008 and says the system is “absolutely brilliant”, with “calls picked up straightaway”.

Airways weathers landings

Airlines have always had a problem deciding which planes should take off when bad weather reduces the number of landing slots available. Airways New Zealand, which handles airport flight operations, used to decide on this based on pre-supplied flight schedules sent from the airlines. However, these obviously did not consider real-time weather conditions.

For a time, Airways New Zealand employed an on-site “flow controller” to help Airways and the airlines prioritise flights, but the constant ringing around — from Airways to the airline and to the pilot on board the plane — proved time-consuming.

Airways now has an online system that allows airlines to bypass the flow controller and manipulate landing slots, using drag and drop functions on a website.

Airways’ communications manager, Ken Mitchell, says the system helps airlines match flights with those having international connections, for example, which minimises disruption to customers caused by bad weather taking out slots.

Bob Fletcher, head of operations support at Air New Zealand, says the system also allows airlines to ensure delays happen on the ground and not in the air, which saves on fuel.

Similar offerings have existed in the US for some years but it’s only now that we have a New Zealand offering that local airlines can afford, he says.

Blood alert

The NZ Blood Service has installed a specialised CRM system to help it better manage the 190,000 units of blood and blood components it receives each year from its 130,000 active blood donors.

Tony Carpinter, national manager information systems, says the NZBS uses an ERP system to run its operations but contacting donors with it isn’t easy. This meant that donors could only be contacted by phone or letter. It was also hard to book people in at a specific time.

Now, the NZBS has upgraded with a US system called Donor Dialogue as part of its Donor Relationship Management (DRM) project. Donor Dialogue interfaces with the ERP system, which was also customised at the same time as it was rolled out nationally to 11 sites.

It now includes new functions such as allowing text messaging. The result is that the NZBS can now contact donors by text or email, and donors can make their own appointments online.

The system also features much better management reporting, so the blood service can cope with extra demands. These can be urgent. For example, recently a Dunedin patient suddenly needed 70 pints of blood.

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