Western Power responds to surging population with multimedia contact centre

Contact centre in the cloud scales during peak times resulting from events like natural disasters

Credit: Western Power

Credit: Western Power

Western Power is upgrading its contact centre to support a big increase in the number of customer contacts from a broad variety of channels including social media, according to Ben Oxford, Western Power section head of customer service.

British Telecom (BT) announced the contract this morning with the Perth-based electrical grid. Western Power is the largest isolated electricity network in the world, covering most of Western Australia and more than 1 million customers.

Western Australia launched a contact centre for customers four years ago. However, a rapidly increasing population and changing demographics in the state increased pressure on the contact centre and necessitated an upgrade, Oxford told Computerworld Australia.

Oxford estimated that the contact centre has 1.5 million customer transactions per year, with telephone calls accounting for about 1 million. Western Power does not outsource work, so calls are handled by local employees, he said.

“We’ve had 600,000 people move here in the past decade,” with 82,000 people migrating to Perth in the last 12 months, Oxford said. Western Power has seen a proportionate increase in the number of customer contacts, he said.

At the same time, the power company has been tracking an increasing number of Generation Y adults who prefer using social media or smartphones for Web-based contact rather than the telephone, he said.

While Western Power had previously supported website, email and social media, “we didn’t actually have a complete unified converged communications platform whereby we measure every access point with the same criticality and world-class service levels as we had with telephone,” he said.

With the new unified communications and multimedia capabilities from BT, Western Power will treat all customers equally no matter how they contact Western Power, Oxford said. “We want to be able to accommodate all of our population with the same priority as we have in the past with telephony.”

In addition, the new contact centre will help Western Power better handle calls in peak times like natural disasters, said Oxford. “People say natural disasters don’t happen very often, but in the last two years we’ve had four of the worst natural disasters in the history of the state.”

While Western Power might receive 4,000 calls on an average day, it might receive 260,000 on the day of a natural disaster, he said.

“In our biggest natural disaster in the history of Western Australia in June 2012, the exchanges in Perth actually melted down,” said Oxford. “Even Telstra couldn’t cope with the volume.”

By using the cloud, the new BT contact centre will let Western Power quickly scale for peak periods. “The cloud capability has allowed us to go from thousands through servers to hundreds of thousands through the cloud.”

Also, by unifying its contact channels, customers will have alternative means to contact the power company if telephones go down, he said.

Western Power has already implemented most of the contact channels under the new BT service, Oxford said. All channels except social media will be live in October, with implementation of social media expected in January, said Oxford. From the time of contract negotiation, the whole process has taken about seven months, he said.

Oxford estimated that the upgrade will save millions of dollars in operating costs per year. “All of these efficiencies that are reducing costs and increasing customer access and satisfaction has well and truly paid for the services that we’re paying for.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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