These days, contact centres can operate from anywhere – even the cloud. When Whangārei District Council needed an urgent update to its telephony system across two contact centres, it called on specialist Enghouse Interactive to ring in the changes with a cloud-based Microsoft Teams solution. And the new platform has already been tested to show it’s mobile, scalable and ready for anything – proving this cloud is not just a castle in the air!
Whangārei and its surrounding districts are home to nearly 100,000 New Zealanders, enjoying gorgeous beaches, rolling farmland, fast-growing suburbs and tons of culture in Aotearoa’s “winterless North”. But even in paradise, someone has to organise the bin collection – or the rates, or road maintenance, or all the other services that Kiwis take for granted.
That keeps Whangārei District Council (WDC)’s contact centre teams busy, fielding 6,000 calls per month in the main contact centre, and nearly 3,000 more in the building team, which looks after building consents and inspections. These agents are the heart of the council, its main point of engagement with local residents.
But after faithfully pumping through calls for years, by the second half of 2021, WDC’s ageing phone system was reaching the end of its life. Support for its operating system was due to end, and mobility was also a major issue. The pandemic really highlighted the importance of enabling the council’s people to work remotely and flexibly, which has become just the way we do things in the modern workplace.
On the old telephony system, contact centre staff needed unwieldy VPNs to log in from home, and in the office, they were tied to old-fashioned desk phones. That meant if someone was away from their desk, there could be missed calls and backlogs – and that could lead to public frustration.
With the rest of the council already undergoing a broad tech transformation to bring operations into the digital world, the contact centres urgently needed to follow suit. Microsoft Teams was already being used by some council teams, so switching to a Teams-based calling system just made sense. But with just a few months to complete the task, other council departments undergoing their own systems upgrades – and support teams in Auckland and elsewhere in lockdown – the pressure was on.
“A telephony project shouldn’t be a rush job. It’s incredibly important for customers inside and outside council to be able to reach us,” explains WDC IT Project Manager, Roxanne Manlangit.
“If anything went wrong, the council was at risk of having no telephones. We didn’t want to be on the front page of the Northern Advocate for all the wrong reasons.”
Placing calls in the cloud
When it came to tech partners for the job, WDC was very happy to move to a Teams-Enghouse solution, gaining peace of mind from Enghouse and Microsoft’s 15-year Gold Partnership.
“We’ve been dealing with Enghouse Interactive for about 20 years, so our relationship is well established. They know our organisation so well,” Roxanne says.
The two organisations worked closely together to develop a plan that would cause the least possible disruption, while also getting contact centre agents used to a completely new interface and way of working. It wasn’t just a handset change – it was a mindset change as well.
“With the ongoing organisation-wide transformation happening, it meant double the impact on our contact centre team, who were heavily involved in two other transformation projects at the same time. It was really a huge, huge change mountain for them to climb,” explains Roxanne.
So, Enghouse and WDC held a demo session for the contact centre agents to help them test out the Teams platform. Leaders from the contact centre were also identified to be subject matter experts and champion the changes.
“We saw ourselves as one team, and we worked hard to make sure everybody was comfortable,” says Richard Winterburn, New Zealand Head of Channel Sales at Enghouse.
WDC also created their own short, easy videos to demystify all of Teams’ many capabilities, from setting up calendar invites to putting calls on hold, to prepare staff for the rollout.
Appropriately for a contact centre transformation, both Enghouse and WDC realised the importance of communication to help overcome confusion, which naturally leads to resistance.
Throughout, Enghouse was meeting with the project team on a regular basis to ensure clear communication and the team was constantly checking in via Teams with the subject matter experts to help them understand why things were being done a certain way and communicate that to their teams.
But no one was expecting what happened next.
The Enghouse cloud calling platform went live on Friday night. On Saturday, there was a significant infrastructure incident which resulted in a larger call volume.
“Our contact centre received 1,000 calls on the Saturday from householders who were affected, and another 1,000 on Sunday. This was a real, live test of our failover system, which diverted any calls over the platform’s maximum load directly to Microsoft Teams,” Roxanne says. “But it happened much sooner than anyone expected!”
By 10 o’clock on Monday morning, phone service provider Vodafone had already added extra channels to the system. It just took a five-minute restart.
“It was a baptism of fire,” adds Richard. “But it proved the system is robust.”
In fact, Roxanne says most of the organisation didn’t even realise the switchover to Teams had happened – it was that seamless.
Now contact centre agents are no longer tethered to their desk phones, they’re able to answer calls from home or office, without missing a beat or needing clunky VPNs.
“One of the huge benefits of Teams integration is that you can quickly fire a Teams message to someone while you’re on a call, in real time. It’s been a real breakthrough for WDC, which tries to resolve calls first time to save time, costs and caller frustration. And because you can see who’s available in Teams, it makes it easy to transfer calls, so you don’t waste time hunting people down,” Richard says.
WDC has already embraced another key feature – enhanced integration with Microsoft Active Directory.
“Using AD as our contact source has minimised the manual setup of contacts and keeps the information consistent between other applications,” says Roxanne.
The Enghouse platform routes Teams calls from an IVR to different agent functions, based on caller needs and also agent availability. If needed, it could also identify special callers and automatically route them to the best people to handle those calls. Microsoft Teams users also love the ability to see contacts face to face on Teams video calls, as if they’re in the same room.
Meanwhile, the building contact centre has implemented Enghouse’s callback option, so customers no longer need to wait in a queue. They can simply leave a message, which pings an alert to the agents to call them back when someone is free.
“While a lot of people focus on the customer experience, Enghouse is focused on the contact centre agent experience as well, to ensure they’re supported and engaged. This is crucial when, as Microsoft’s new Work Trend Index research shows, many people are looking for employers that place a high value on relationships,” says Robert Havranek, Modern Work and Security Business Group Lead at Microsoft New Zealand.
The future of contact centres
There are just a few small deployments to go, but the main contact centre team is already investigating the callback option as well. In future, WDC will be exploring the possibility of web chat and email features with Enghouse, using Microsoft Cognitive Services technology to recognise key words and phrases in emails to direct them to the right person.
“Not only does that provide a better service, we’ve found changing the channels contact centre agents use throughout the day keeps them from getting bored with the same routine. They can spend an hour or two answering voice calls, then switch to web chat or email channels,” Richard enthuses.
Meanwhile, the videos created for the Teams integration are now being used for onboarding new staff across the council, so everybody is up and running from day one.
“Contact centre agents are proud of going the extra mile and this new system assists them to do that,” Roxanne says. “With a Teams and cloud-based contact centre, physical location is no longer a barrier to communication! As the project manager, I’m proud of what we have achieved and to have delivered a project that has transformed the organisation’s way of working. Full credit to the team’s hard work and eye for detail – they took on the lessons learnt at every iteration, and that made a huge difference to the outcome.”