BT has over 15m customers who create more than 70m calls per year into BT’s customer service call centres and send more than 2.5m emails. 

Warren Buckley is responsible for all customer services activities for BT Retail Consumer Customers and now has a staff of 10,000 based in 45 centres in the UK and India. 

We spoke to Warren about the challenges of this role, and how far BT has moved towards a joined up customer service model. 

What are the channels customers use most often to contact you?

Broadly speaking, our biggest channel is still voice, which accounts for around 70m calls a year, and that doesn’t include the IVR environment. 

Let me break that down. There will be around 100m calls that are offered to us, and around 30m of those will fall into our automated channels, where customers will call us but they will choose to serve themselves via the IVR setup, to make a payment, or to find a balance. 

Then there’s the remaining 70m that will fall directly into the contact centre.

After that there will be around 2.5m emails per year, and they are dealt with via our environment, and in addition we will get something in the region of 55m discrete uses of our self-service capability on the website 

So that’s looking at their bills and checking balances on

It’s a whole swathe of things, they will be getting help setting up on broadband or looking at their bills; and it’s a big investment area for us at BT over the last two and half years. 

But we will still also get around 800,000 letters a year, and then possibly the smallest of the channels – but the fastest-growing – is the social media environment. 

For example, we have around 60,000 customers on Twitter, and then about 400,000 to 500,000 on our forums, and then on YouTube we have 300,000 hits on our videos on YouTube.

So what’s the experience like for the customer on the different channels?

We try and keep as much consistency as possible across the different environments, but what changes more than anything else is the tone. 

The tone we would take in response to a letter would be more formal, and the people who write do tend to come from a particular generation. 

When we respond to email, we tend to respond to it in the way that it has been written. If it’s quite an informal email then we will respond informally. Calls are very consistent across the space, but then for example in the social media, we will use an appropriate tone.

The service is consistent but the tone varies.

What are the costs to you for these different channels?

Letters are the most expensive, that would be followed by calls, then email, then pretty much everything else.

So do you have different teams covering all the different areas and are they joined up at all?

They’re not all in the same place. Our call centres are primarily in the UK or in India. The work that we do on what we describe as digital care for social media and email is in Northern Ireland so it varies.

Because of the history of BT, I have 8,000 staff distributed across 40 different sectors. 

So increasingly, we use things like live chat to communicate within the different teams, or a combination of instant messaging and live cha,t which we find is the most efficient. 

So there are different teams for different channels?

Yes, to some extent, the teams roughly split into two channels. We deal with all voice activity in one channel, and then all non-voice work, where an adviser is still involved like email, letters, chat, Twitter, or YouTube etc. 

We split those as it’s very hard to integrate properly someone dealing with email and calls, and we have moved away from doing that.

We would tend to integrate people doing emails and live chat, rather than with calls. The calls are done separately.

Do you monitor when people move across channels?

Increasingly, I would say about 50% of the time at the moment. Strategically we are trying to move to be a multichannel service organisation. But where I would say we are at the moment is a multiple channels service organisation. 

Gradually we are starting to track across the channels. For example if someone uses and then calls us, we track that, but at the moment it’s much harder for me to track if someone has emailed and then called in. 

I would describe this as is a 360° view of the customer.

Do you monitor your brand online? Are you looking at Twitter feeds to see what people are saying about BT? 

We’re doing this constantly. We use a tool called Debatescape, which we developed internally. What that does is search across all of the public forum environments, things like Twitter, and external forums, using a whole bunch of search strings to find keywords.

Basically it tracks across all of those different environments, with this very significant set of search strings, and it then filters out things that aren’t to do with BT. For example there is a musician in the states called BT.

It takes those results and it delivers them through a workflow package to my dedicated advisors who will then respond.

So we do this tracking, but we use it more for the ability to react. For example, if we see someone with a problem we will reach out and say “can we help?”, and everything we do under social media is done under a single identity called BTcare.

What speeds of response do you have to these different channels?

We look to respond to those channels between 30 and 60 minutes. It varies slightly because sometimes with some other forums it takes slightly longer for a search to run, but effectively we look to respond within an hour.

So are you effectively a multichannel customer services director?

Yes, and that is quite an important element. I’m responsible for all the channels and I can look across them from a strategic point of view.

I have certainly talked to colleagues in other industries where that isn’t the case, and that makes it much harder.

Is this something new that BT has done?

We made a change about two years ago, and we’ve also cottoned on to the fact that – although the internet has been around a long time – people using the internet to self-serve, and using social media has been something that has exploded phenomenally over the last two years. 

We saw this starting to happen and reacted to it, but we still have lots more we would like to do on it, but I guess what we have done is to have a consistent strategy.

One of the things I own is our contact strategy which includes any of our customer contacts both inbound and outbound.

For example every communication sent out whether it’s a sales communication, a service marketing piece, goes out with my name on it. So the customer will have a consistent personality linked to the communication they’re dealing with.

What we’ve seen in the past is multiple different points of contact in the organisation are writing to customers, and one doesn’t know what the other is saying.

Is customer service perceived as a cost burden or an investment in the future?

My strategy for customer service falls into three parts:

1) The quality of the customer service. That’s the primary goal I have to deliver on. 

2) Cost reduction. Like most service organisations a huge amount of what we deal with is the cost of failure, and if you stop failing the customer whether that’s process, system, product, or in the service experience then you can take that off. 

3) Value creation. We have to deliver financial benefits to the company, whether through cost reduction, or through sales in the service environment, or retention of customers.

How do you measure that?

The primary measure for us in a customer service point of view is one contact resolution, as a primary measure, it’s similar to first call resolution but we try to make it as hard as we can.

Our definition is when a customer contacts us, and is dealt with on first contact, without transferring the contact elsewhere, without putting it to an off-line queue, and without the customer having to contact us again for any reason within the next 28 days. 

We are also trying to get one contact resolution to 85%. We are currently around 62% so we have way to go yet. 

From a value creation perspective we track that by two measures first of all customer retention, and secondly revenue generation.

How’d you link customers together? Is it their phone number or a customer number?

It’s primarily by phone numbers, all of our customers clearly have a landline, or have a telephone number and the key customer ID to us is the telephone number, the only area that we can’t do that is social media because we don’t have that data, unless a customer responds when we reach out and help. 

I can associate an email with a telephone number because that is already in our system, though obviously customers can and do use different media IDs.

What about brand consistency?

We certainly keep the focus on keeping a consistent experience from a brand point of view, but as I say different channels use different tones, to just assume that what you would say on the phone is what you would write in a letter would be wrong, it’s about appropriateness.

Is churn part of the metrics for customer services?

Churn is part of the value creation metric, we track all of the customer churn by a range of different metrics including customer service related churn, and we would track that specifically, and we also use net promoter score effectively across the organisation.