Recent announcements from Ofgem have warned that they intend to require suppliers to move to an extended customer support model, with 24/7 cover required for off-supply customers. Whilst some larger businesses might be ready to meet these requirements, smaller and more niche suppliers will face a myriad of practical issues.
The biggest challenge is cost when margins are low
Running contact hours that match the “hours per day” that your team works means you are able to have full resource available at all times that the contact centre is open – for example you only need 4 FTE and they will be fully utilised during opening hours.
Extending the hours of the contact centre beyond the standard “hours per day” for your team will result in times of the day when you are under resourced, and times when you are over resourced.
Worked Example - Extending hours to 8am till 8pm.
Peak call times might be between 9am & 10 am, 12pm & 2pm, and 5pm – 7pm.
To meet the new extended hours – your existing 4 strong team would need to work for example.
2 * 8am – 4pm
2 * 12pm – 8pm
This means that between 9am & 10am, you will be under resourced during a peak time whilst between 3pm & 4pm, you would be over resourced. Then again from 5pm & 7pm you are under resourced, having only 2 people on at a peak time.
Add in the complexity of holidays and sickness means you could potentially end up with no available staff at core hours. This doesn’t even consider the complexity of weekend cover.
The only option for small suppliers would be to onboard more staff to cover the peak hours – though this could mean recruiting part time staff with the accompanying challenges of training and retention.
The increase in management support is disproportionate to the increase in hours/staff.
Best practice should require that a team leader or manager is available at all hours that the team are working which would need an additional manager to cover all of open hours, even though at some point they would only be managing half a team.
You don’t get more customer contact, you just get it spread out through the day.
It may seem an obvious point, but when extending your hours, you don’t receive a higher level of contact, it is just spread out throughout the day. Additional resource cost is therefore not able to be recouped through margin, it just becomes pure cost to the business.
Scheduling processes become increasingly complex.
When you extend your hours beyond your worked hours per day, you bring in an increased level of complexity to resource planning and rota production.
For example, if Saturday is a half day, your team will either be working 4 hours a week too many, or 4 hours too few.
Holidays become more complex to manage, with shift patterns considered when authorising holidays to ensure no shift is left under resourced. This will result in either an increase of workload to already over worked team leaders or the recruitment of a dedicated scheduler or real time analyst.
Modern day efficiencies such as self-serve have resulted in lower team sizes
As the industry has moved many day-to-day tasks to self-serve and digital channels, alongside with the smart meter roll out, customer service team sizes are smaller now than they used to be. The smaller the team, the greater the impact caused by increasing opening hours.
24/7 operations are often impossible to deliver internally
Offering the 24/7 coverage for off-supply as required by Ofgem would not be financially or practically viable for an internal team to deliver. The need to hire a specialist overnight team, with at least 2 people on rota to cover breaks, holiday or sickness when, on many nights, there would be no calls received, makes delivery a challenge for the business
Whilst no one will disagree that delivering expert customer service to customers at hours that are convenient for them is vital for the industry, these new requirements will challenge many suppliers. Retailers should be talking to their outsourcing partners now to discuss the best way to meet these new Licence Conditions.