Gulping down a glass of water or plunging your way to an unclogged sink has never really been the stuff of corporate chatter. After all, what’s there to talk about, right? Well, the Scots may not agree. Following the creation of a unified public authority in April 2002, which provides water and sewer services to more than five million households and businesses across 98 percent of Scotland, and a £7 million ($12.55 million) radical customer-focused company overhaul having already paid for itself, Scottish Water really does have something to talk about.
Nearly two years into the project, Scottish Water reports it has eliminated £18 million ($32.23 million) from its annual operating budget—nudging the company closer to initial ROI expectations of a 250 percent return two years after launch. “We did a three-month pilot before we started on the main program and didn’t forecast an ROI at that point,” says Cheryl Black, customer service director with Scottish Water.
“What we were looking for were particular productivity indicators that one particular type of job could increase from five a day, for example, to 11 a day. What came out of that gave us enough confidence to embark on the program. The 250 percent was calculated after we had started to make the investment and now it has been validated with us taking that amount of money out of our budget.”
Promise to Resolution (P2R), the project name, was inspired by the creation of consistent service standards throughout the communication chain and fueled by an investment of £2 million ($3.58 million) into an Oracle technology CRM solution. The customer management and field service software system was three pronged: Oracle TeleService, Oracle Field Service and Oracle Mobile Field Service. Scottish Water launched the TeleService component first, in April 2003, followed by the consolidation of three contact centers, and then a countrywide rollout of the Field Service and Mobile Field Service Applications in December 2003.
“The Oracle implementation is a key enabler of our change strategy because it is much more than just a software application,” says Black. “This is a complete change in the way people in the business think about how they do their jobs.”
Oracle TeleService automates contact center work processes and improves problem resolution by giving agents a single and complete view of the customer. They can answer more questions in one call because they now track past calls, services, status on repair jobs and so on. The key here is that with the new system, call center agents and engineers in the field work on a common platform—everything is connected and everyone can see and add to/update customer information.
While cost savings have emerged from all areas of the company, the majority come from the call center, where the rollout initiated. Oracle Field Service allows the call center agents to schedule precise service appointments with customers and Mobile Field Service allows workers in the field to access the customer management database, obtain intricate instructions and submit reports while in the field. Calls are answered faster, call time is shorter, problems are more often resolved at the first point of contact, repeat calls and overall call volumes have been lowered, and all call information is disseminated much more accurately and efficiently. According to Scottish Water, the company is on track with initial ROI assessments, conducted by Comark Communications, which predicted to cut contact center costs by 13 percent by the end of 2004 and 38 percent by the end of 2005. Overall goals have the company reducing operating costs by an astounding 40 percent by fiscal year 2005-06.
“The key is the connectivity and data flow,” notes Black. “So when a customer gets in touch with us, we try to resolve it in the contact center and if we can’t, information is transmitted to the field. We’re able to use our workflow and resource planning systems so we can actually give the customer a timed appointment. And instead of getting a scrap of paper or an incomplete phone call, the field engineer gets all the information to complete the job while he’s there, which improves his job satisfaction and improves customer service.”
All of this has resulted in increased cost savings and a fine-tuned field appointment scheduling system that transcends the efficiency boost to new laptop-lugging field engineers. While customers generally wait longer for a scheduled appointment, engineers arrive better equipped to solve the problem as detailed work instructions and highlights from the customer’s initial phone call are downloaded onsite. According to the initial ROI report, crews now handle an average of 75 percent more choked drains per day and 36 percent more burst pipe incidents. And overtime savings are estimated at more than £100,000 ($180,000) per year.
The overall project didn’t go off without a hitch, but minor technology snafus were eliminated in the early months. The most formidable challenge was convincing long-time employees to change protocol, and that later response times were in the best interest of the company—as well as of the customers. “There were difficulties in the beginning getting all the people in the chain to comply with the new process,” says Black. “A job would come from the contact center; it would be scheduled through the central system and would appear on the laptop of the appropriate engineer. And there would be a tendency for people to want to manually intervene in the process and reschedule tasks. This was simply because some people had been used to having that control. But the improved relationship between each department has meant that we now work closely together.”
Despite scheduling over-eagerness, buy-in from employees came sooner than expected, and most behavioral issues were completely resolved. The service reps could see the impressive scale of improvement, says Black. Currently, the Field Service and Mobile Field Service elements of the project are isolated with a mere 200 laptops in the field. But with such a large portion of its business relying on maintenance and the monitoring of assets and proactive behavior, Scottish Water plans on expanding this component while also adding upgrades in computing systems, data center consolidation, standardizing e-mail programs and more powerful servers, as well as alternative media for customer inquiries.
“We weren’t sure if our workforce would really take to the idea of becoming connected and using the functionality of this mobile service afforded. And we were also a little bit concerned with how robust the technology would be, particularly in the rural areas of Scotland. There were some technical challenges there in making mobile connections work in out in the hills,” says Black. “But actually it has more than met our expectations because all the time we’re seeing new opportunities to leverage this investment. We started by providing the laptops, focused on doing particular types of work, and now we’re seeing the productivity come up and we’re seeing people buy into it and wanting to use it more effectively.”
Linn Edvardsen is a freelance writer based in Ohio.