Futures Advice, Skills & Employment, based in Nottingham, is a 350-strong service providing advice and guidance about opportunities in training, learning and work. It provides National Careers Service advice under Government contract for both the East Midlands, and more recently the whole of Central Eastern England – an area encompassing Norfolk, Suffolk and Milton Keynes.
To fulfil its obligations under the National Careers Service contracts, Futures must track and report on the development paths of the people it helps – as they pass from education and training into work. The goal is to measure performance against Government targets, to ensure that courses and other skills development initiatives succeed in getting people into related jobs. Schools, further education colleges and universities, too, must be able to show the career progression of their students, and the percentage that enter the trades and professions they have trained for.
Futures Advice, Skills & Employment identified an opportunity to create a specialist company to handle this type of work. Futures Tracking Agency, established in 2012, provides a comprehensive ‘destinations’ tracking and reporting service, allowing schools, further and higher education providers, and training organisations, to demonstrate measurable outcomes.
“Previously, education and training establishments would have produced this kind of management information in house, but now Government contracts are so intrinsically tied to results, and Ofsted pays such close attention to where people get to in life, that it’s a difficult requirement to meet internally,” explains Saira Hardy, Destinations Tracking Manager at Futures Tracking Agency.
Futures Tracking Agency was founded to fill the gap. Yet, as a start-up business, the Agency had only limited resources to invest in the contact centre capabilities it would need, to keep in touch with clients and record their progress.
“We weren’t attractive enough for larger communications providers to be interested in helping us,” Ms Hardy says. “One wanted £100,000 up front to set up an on-premise dialler, and there was no way we could make that level of investment at such an early stage.”
The Agency needed flexibility too, so that associates could work from home with complete access to functionality and client information. Without an affordable solution there was a real risk that Futures wouldn’t be able to get its new destinations tracking agency off the ground.
Futures brought in a specialist in contact centre solutions and services, to advise on the options. The consultancy, SCS, recommended a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach to supplying the call management and client reporting capabilities the Agency needed. This would allow the new business to keep its upfront costs and risk very low, and provide the flexibility to support home-based workers and to scale facilities according to demand.
Central to the proposed solution was First Contact, a sophisticated SaaS-based customer interaction management system and scripting application. As well as being available via a hosted delivery model, the software is very easy to use and control. This offered Futures Tracking Agency maximum flexibility to use its features in a range of different and very powerful ways.
The ability to integrate with other core systems was paramount. These included a cloud-based contact centre service from Intelecom, which SCS had proposed for managing outbound campaigns, and a central CRM system from CogniSoft which is mandated for the National Careers Service for managing client details.
The hosted contact centre service from Intelecom allows agents to log in remotely to make and take calls; it also provides features such as Customer Identification information. Through close integration with the system, the First Contact software is able to automatically bring up the right script depending on who’s being called, guide the Agent during the call, and pass information to and from the CRM system at the appropriate points.
Without direct integration with the CRM system, the Agency would have had to fall back on manual processes to meet Future’s National Career Service obligations - uploading data to the call script, exporting, cleaning it, and copying and pasting it to the CRM system, Ms Hardy says. “Instead, all of the different technologies talk to each other - and even voice recording is integrated.”
The fact that the whole solution is web based is very cost-effective, she adds. “We access everything via the Internet – there’s nothing on premise. This means we can use it from anywhere too.”
The functionality, meanwhile, rivals that used by many bigger businesses. First Contact’s customised reporting capabilities and remote controls provide everything Ms Hardy needs to manage a dispersed workforce. “The system is very user-friendly, slick and polished,” she says. “Even working from home, I can see when staff log on, the call queue, and how many calls people have made in a day, and set the time the office closes. I can also enter a service level target – such as how quickly a call should be answered - and see how many are meeting it.”
The impact of the system has been business-defining, Ms Hardy says. The Agency would never have got off the ground without the willingness of First Contact, and partners SCS and Intelecom, to place their faith in a start-up company - and come up with a solution that met all its needs, within budget. “We’ve gained access to functionality that might have taken two years to get to with a larger provider,” she notes.
“All three companies have been fantastic in the way they’ve worked together, thought outside the box, and come up with the exact solution we needed.”
This in turn helped the Futures parent company to secure the Central Eastern England National Careers Service business - by ensuring it could provide the mandatory destinations tracking.
Simplicity and speed to market have played a vital role too. “With First Contact I can easily adapt the scripts if each college has its own special requirements,” Ms Hardy notes. “With other solutions, special coding would be required. The system also lets me design a simple 1-page script, with agent notes at the bottom. This makes it very easy to set up staff - because the guidance is just there, rather than tucked away in a folder. Most other scripting tools I looked at were quite complicated.”
First Contact has also introduced a Progressive Dialler, which automatically dials the next number in the background. “This has enabled a 20-30% increase in productivity, meaning we can achieve more with fewer agents,” she says.
By eliminating manual data transfer, the tight integration with the National Careers Service CRM system has saved the Agency from employing an additional 3-4 staff. The fact that First Contact could achieve this in a SaaS environment has been transformational, she notes. A few years ago, this kind of integration would have cost a quarter of a million pounds – a cost that has been cut by hundreds of thousands of pounds, thanks to the creative work of First Contact and partners.
Finally, the ability to extract reliable metrics against all sorts of performance criteria means the Agency can not only provide the required management information back to client organisations, but also monitor how its callers are performing - and how campaigns could be made more effective.
“We’ve found that the best time to catch people is often after 4pm, so we can work till 8pm to drive up results,” Ms Hardy says. “I can get this information out of the system and the First Contact reporting tool produces all sorts of performance insight in real time.”
Now First Contact, SCS and Futures Tracking Agency are discussing the possibility of collaborating on a more complete outsourcing service. This could see Futures providing a complete contact centre service for clients of its technology partners. “Rather than companies setting up their own contact centre operations to use the technology they’re buying, we could do the work for them,” Ms Hardy says.
First Contact clearly understands what exceptional customer service means, which bodes well for the future, she concludes. In terms of affordability, what they’ve provided is absolutely amazing.
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