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The UK’s Top 50

Call Centres
Cold calling, long wait times, lost data and offshoring to India
all give call centres a bad name. But what about the
companies that are getting customer service right? Here’s
your guide to the best brands giving the best service

presented by

This is an independent publication published by UBM Live in association with Lyonsdown

2q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times


ING DIRECT United Utilities is bucking the national trend and taking on more staff at its call centres.
FEELS GOOD In the last three months 40 temporary jobs have been made permanent and this is an ongoing
programme of recruitment for quality customer focused staff.

Winning the award for the best call centre customer experience in the telecoms and utilities
category has also helped highlight the work of all our staff.

It is a welcome endorsement that the transformation programme that has been running for the
last 18months to improve customer satisfaction is really working and making a difference both
COMING 8TH IN THE TOP 50 to our customers and to our business.

CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER United Utilities is the largest listed UK water company, providing water and wastewater
services to seven million customers in the North West of England. We also operate and
SERVICE FEELS EVEN BETTER. maintain water, wastewater, electricity and gas networks across the UK and internationally.
Wherever we are, we deploy our vision, energy, engineering and operational experience to help
new and existing communities to grow - providing them with the essential services they need.

Thank you and congratulations to our call centre staff. By applying discipline to our processes, recruiting the best people and providing our people
with the best systems, training, working environment and customer focus, massive
improvements have been made possible.
Fancy joining us? We’re currently recruiting for extra
Customer Service Associates, full and part time at Of course it helps when you provide products that transform people’s lives everyday.
both our Reading and Cardiff call centres. To find out
more visit and enter reference So whilst this award is celebrated, it’s a milestone, not the end game as we strive towards
offering world class customer service.
11630 for Reading and 11632 for Cardiff.
To find out more about how United Utilities are providing life’s essentials in the UK and across
the world. Please visit

We aim to be an equal opportunities employer



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* Denplan was rated 2nd in the ‘Top 50 Call

Centres for Customer Service’ 2008 survey
missing the top spot by less than 0.5%

Terms and conditions apply


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq(

Call centres:
Editor Claudia Hathway
020 7921 8515
Deputy editor
Nicolette Allen

a celebration
020 7921 8529
Art director Rob Patterson
020 7234 8702
Designer Nick Wells
020 7234 8734
Commercial director
Simon Thorpe
Celebrating call for you to call before doing anything —
020 7921 8507
centres? Are you
Director of partnerships mad? Everyone knows they’re terrible. It’s that’s the one you tell everyone about.
Bradley Hoyland all “press one for this, press two for that, It only takes a few of these stories to 4 Introducing the
020 7921 8511
Publisher Mark Turner and press nine to go back to where you give the impression that “all call centres Top 50 call centres
What’s wrong with call centres?
020 7955 3976
started.” Or you have to speak to a machine are bad” and it’s all too easy to imagine Revealing what customers think
about calling the UK’s top brands
Marketing director that doesn’t seem to recognise English. that customer contact workers sit like
Amy Scott Then, if you are lucky enough to get brainless chickens in a coop, not giving a 6 Cheques and balances
01666 826756
Group director through to an actual living person, they damn about your problem. Discover how top performer first
direct consistently delivers for
Mark Snell
can’t understand you either. And they But there are organisations out there that customers and staff
020 7921 8510 don’t know who you are, even though you do care and want to serve customers in the
7 Banking on brilliance only phoned a few minutes before about best way possible. Call Centre Focus With the country in the grip of a
banking crisis, these firms are
Repro and contract publishing the same problem. Add to that the fact magazine wanted to do something to on a charm offensive
by Lyonsdown.
that all call centres have gone overseas, celebrate those companies, to give workers
020 8349 7192 taking British jobs with them, and… well… in this industry a bit of pride in the essential 11 Leisurely service?
Find out what entertainment,
All rights reserved. No part it’s all going to the dogs, isn’t it? work they do, and to hopefully persuade leisure and travel companies are
of The Top 50 Call Centres doing to beat the credit crunch
for Customer Service may be Er, no, actually. some of you reading this publication that
reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means,
I’m not disputing the fact that some call centres don’t deserve all this criticism. 14 A very public face
electronic or mechanical, conversations with call centres are awful. So, yes, The Top 50 Call Centres for Government call centres have
including photocopying and maybe the toughest job of all.
recording on any information I’ve experienced enough cock-ups, Customer Service is a celebration. It’s a So how do they cope?
storage or retrieval system
misunderstandings and even downright salute to a function that in a single day
without the written consent 16 Retail therapy
of the publisher. The content
rudeness to know that call centres collects all the insight a company would When you fancy a bit of shopping
of this publication is subject to
from the comfort of your own
reproduction in information sometimes get it wrong. need for a year-long business strategy. It’s armchair, who can you gonna call?
storage and retrieval systems.
The opinions expressed are not But because I work in the call centre a tribute to an industry that never stops
necessarily those of the editor.
‘industry’, I also know that millions and trying to improve. And it’s an 18 Price war
Read how these utility and telecoms
CCF is the UK’s No.1 customer millions of customer interactions happen appreciation of the people who companies are campaigning on
contact title and is published
more than a just a better price
by UBM Live, a division of over the phone every year without incident. sit on the end of the phone all
United Business Media plc.
In fact, they happen with professionalism, day trying to help others. 19 A time for change
Tim Bishop from technology giant
opinion, breaking news and
the latest jobs through the
politeness and even the occasional giggle. I hope you’ll take the time to
Siemens reflects on an industry
printed title and CCF Online: I firmly believe that call centres have such read on and find out a little that’s badly misunderstood CCF is
the organiser of the Top 50 Call an awful reputation because they are a more about the country’s
Centres for Customer Service
programme. victim of human nature. You’d never dream best centres and the
of telling your friends about a perfectly people who work in them.
organised by pleasant conversation with a friendly Even if you don’t enjoy it,
member of staff who managed to sort out it’ll just be another thing
your water bill query with no fuss at all. It’s to hate call centres for.
the time you rang your broadband provider
because you couldn’t connect to the
Internet, only for them to tell you they Claudia Hathway, editor,
supported by
were aware of the fault, but were waiting Call Centre Focus magazine


4q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Your call is important to us

Call centres are FOUR YEARS AGO, I got a job as the editor of a call only ring one because something is wrong. Either cent of the working population employed by call
centre magazine. Brilliant, I thought, finally I get you don’t have some information that you need or centres. So we decided to do something to
awful...aren’t they? my dream job of editing a high circulation you don’t understand something, or you want to change perceptions of call centres, to boost the
publication that I can really get my teeth into and complain. Little wonder that most call centre pride of staff working in them, even improve the
Claudia Hathway make a success. Shame it’s about call centres. interactions are uncomfortable. Add to that levels of service. The Top 50 Call Centres for
unveils a new report Because, like you, I thought call centres were
boring at best. And at worst, they actually upset
having to wait longer than a couple of key strokes
or clicks of a mouse for information, or not
Customer Service was born.
The initiative is a huge project that measures the
that’s challenging people. You’re forced to queue endlessly, before understanding the person on the other end of the level of service given by some of the biggest brand
painfully extracting information, and repeating phone, and you’re left with the impression that names in the UK and scores each of them against
our terrible image details over and over — all whilst holding an “all call centres are bad.” each other. We consulted real-live consumers in

of this everyday uncomfortable piece of machinery to one ear. It’s

torture worthy of an episode of 24. An image makeover
focus groups to find out what they really want from
call centres to give us a basis for our scoring system.
business function But when I started working on Call Centre Focus ,
I began visiting call centre operations and talking
But it’s easy to forget just how much call centres Five key criteria were measured — timeliness,
reliability, ease of use, knowledgeable staff and
have done to empower us as consumers. Can you
to the people who spend up to eight hours a day imagine queuing up at your bank branch just to personalisation — and a series of scenarios were
trying to help customers, armed with nothing but a transfer some money or pay a bill? I shudder to concocted to challenge the call centre staff.
headset and a computer. It was a real eye-opener. think how many precious lunch hours were wasted Then we carefully selected 50 centres that we
Far from chicken coops filled with brainless before call centres existed. These days you can knew had a reputation for delivering excellent
workers reading from scripts and tyrannical buy a book or DVD without going to the shops, you service and, with the help of our mystery
bosses screaming orders and timing loo breaks, can get instant insurance cover, you can even shopping partner GfK NOP, called each of the
the majority of staff are happy, motivated tailor-make your own holiday in your living room — organisations 400 times over a three-month
individuals who perform small miracles helping none of which would be possible without the period. That’s a massive 20,000 calls to test the
hundreds of customers every day. evolution of customer contact in call centres. customer service of the UK’s biggest brands.
Managers are truly caring individuals and many And from working in the industry, I know that the
centres offer staff comfortable, relaxing break- vast majority of the 48billion minutes of calls The results
out areas, concierge services, free fresh fruit, gym received by call centres every year are perfectly In this first year, we weren’t sure what to expect,
access and tonnes of motivational incentives ordinary, if not pleasant — certainly nothing to get but we were staggered by the results. The average
including trips abroad, iPods and vouchers. Sounds upset about. And yet, the only stories we hear in overall performance score was a massive 83 per
a darn sight better than my office, where the only the mainstream press are about how dreadful cent, indicating that for these 50 companies at
thing you get for free is repetitive strain from customer service is over the phone. least, call centres are doing a cracking job of helping
continually prodding the boss for a pay rise. This is something that frustrated us at out customers. Perhaps surprisingly, 85 per cent of
It’s no wonder we feel the way we do about call Call Centre Focus — particularly as this industry is callers were satisfied with the service they were
centres though. If you think about it, you usually so important to the UK economy, with three per offered — and 42 per cent of those were extremely


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq*

Ten of
the best
The very top
performing centres
of the Top 50 were:

first direct


F&C Investments
satisfied. That’s nearly half who were, dare I say it,
happy after speaking to a call centre.
Celebrating call centres The gala evening to announce
the top performers was as
tense as the Oscars (right) and
So why have these centres done so well, when The results from the Top 50
mystery shopping survey
Extras) as he entertained the
600-strong crowd with jokes
Eamonn Holmes (bottom right)
was very popular with the
Lloyds TSB Insurance
we know from painful experience that some

were so astounding, Call and anecdotes. Invited on to ladies from Holiday Extras,
centres are patently rubbish? It could be down to who came top in their sector
Centre Focus felt like the stage were the ten best
the fact that these companies realise the celebrating. So, along with overall performers and the
(bottom left)

importance of the call centre to their brand. In this

digital age, the telephone is one of the few
the organisers, we put on a
glittering gala dinner in
top performer in each
sector to accept this
time to reflect on what the
Top 50 Call Centres for

personal interactions with customers left — and as London to present each and additional accolade. Customer Service will do for
such is a key battleground with competitors. In fact, every one of the centres with Having eaten and drunk, it the industry. As one ecstatic
GfK NOP research recently revealed that almost a well-deserved trophy. was definitely time to be manager put it: “This
recognition of our success is
half of 25-44 year-olds have changed supplier Daytime TV hero Eamonn
Holmes opened proceedings
merry as the teams from all
50 centres really let their hair going to fundamentally
because of a negative call centre experience.

and he developed quite a down to celebrate their change the way the call
Scary stuff — and a statistic that should make fanclub (particularly the all- amazing achievements. And centre is viewed within
marketing executives sit up and listen. female team from Holiday at the end of the night, it was our organisation.”
We hope that the 50 companies will wear their
participation in the programme as a badge of Charles Tyrwhitt

honour, in tribute to their bravery at exposing their
call centre performance in a very public way. What do consumers want?
They may even display the logo on their
Measured against the top five hard to get our enquiry Top 50 The average score out
advertising and marketing so consumers can see
things consumers look for in a answered of five for this area was an ING Direct
which companies care enough about their

call centre*, the performance Top 50 91% of the mystery outstanding 4.4
customers to invest in providing the best possible of the Top 50 is pretty shoppers said the centres Personalised We also want
service over the phone. impressive: performed well in this area the call to be a pleasant
I hope you will take the time to read about these Reliability Customers want to experience, with polite,
businesses over the following pages. The stories Timeliness Unsurprisingly, we be sure their problem will be helpful and friendly staff Specsavers Optical
they have to tell are nothing short of inspirational, don’t like to be kept waiting to
speak to someone
handled correctly
Top 50 Almost all (98%) of
Top 50 It could be argued
that this is an area for
and you never know, you might find that call

Top 50 Nearly all (93%) of our problems/queries were improvement, but the overall
centres aren’t as bad as you thought.
callers got through on the first resolved in the first call score for this area was still a
attempt and only had to wait Knowledgeable staff respectable 68%
For information on the Top 50 Call Centres for
Customer Service 2009, please contact Bradley
an average of 1.3 minutes to
speak to a human
Naturally, the centre should
have all the information * according to a series of consumer
Cambridgeshire County
Hoyland:, 020 79218511 Easy of use It shouldn’t be needed to resolve an enquiry focus groups Council


6q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Overall performance score
first direct scored over 90% for all
five key service areas: timeliness,
ease of use, reliability,
knowledgeable staff and


Top performer: first direct

Renowned for having excellent service, first direct has proved once
and for all that it knows how to keep customers happy. But how does the
telephony bank achieve such fantastic results time after time?

1.2 million THINK OF AN EXAMPLE of great customer

service, and first direct is the example that
the agent a cup of tea whilst talking to them
because they get so engrossed in the
colleagues. And
the investment
first direct customers springs to mind over and over again. And yet the
bank is entirely call centre based. Given that
conversation. Staff are careful not to overstep
the mark though: “We are a bank after all,” says
in the individual is
typified by the offer
most people hate call centres, how does the Windle, “so we have to be professional. But I of Neuro-Linguistic

200,000 finance company keep its customers so happy?

I put this question to a number of first direct
staff — at both the Leeds and Hamilton (near
think we’ve hit the right balance of being
friendly without being too personal.”
Programming (NLP) for team leaders to help
them realise their goals both internally and in
their private lives. And the annual awards
calls are handled by Glasgow) centres and the answer was always People power ceremony recognises amazing people, whether
the same: it’s all about people. Each of them So how does first direct maintain this passion that be for help they have given to a colleague
staff at first direct’s insisted that customers and staff are at the for service among its staff? Well, for one thing, or raising money for charity outside of work.
heart of the organisation on every level. they offer an impressive list of employee There is evidently a lot of playfulness among
centres in Hamilton “Customers really do come first — we mean it,” benefits, including: subsidised creche places, a colleagues too, with internal competitions,

and Leeds every week says call centre manager Leigh Windle. Whilst
many companies pay lip service to this
concierge service that will perform every day
tasks such as visits to the dry cleaners or
dress-up days and awards for ‘service heroes’.
“We want people to enjoy work and having fun
sentiment, at first direct there is something posting letters, a relaxation room complete is important,” says Fleet. “But staff should also

13,000 fundamentally genuine about it. Stories abound

of call centre workers ‘going the extra mile’ for
callers, such as the example of a customer who
with onsite masseur, free parking, and car
valeting and servicing.
But even more important than any perk is the
feel that they are valued as experts within the
business. We do not have any partitions in the
centre and staff know that they can approach

calls each day are forgot her handbag and was therefore unable to
pay for a ticket when she boarded a train. On
seemingly genuine passion for people displayed
by the business. “Make no mistake,” says
me at any time with problems or suggestions —
and lots of improvements have been made as a
received outside calling first direct, she was assured that a customer services manager Russell Fleet, “our result of that policy. If I could advise any call
representative would be waiting at the train people are our business. And it’s important to centre manager on how to improve, it would be
working hours station with money to pay for her ticket when invest in them and show them that you care listen to your staff and act on what they say.”
she arrived in Leeds. It’s that kind of mindset about them as individuals. If you treat them If the performance of first direct in the Top 50

that turns customers into true advocates of the with respect, they will pass that on to the survey is anything to go by, it’s good advice.
brand. Staff hear all the time that callers are: customer and repay your investment in spades.” The bank’s people-centric approach seems to
“proud to be customers.” Call centre work is often repetitive and be turning the traditional view of the contact
Customer representative Sandra Patterson uninspiring, and many operations attach centre on its head and presenting the public
of contact is made explains that how they treat customers is really significant importance to incentive schemes with an image of a professional, yet friendly
down to common courtesy: “We put ourselves operation that is also a fun place to work.
by electronic means in the customer’s shoes and treat them like
designed to motivate employees and maintain
interest. But first direct staff hardly mention “When people hear what I do for a living, they
human beings. I’m really proud to work here incentives (though) there are schemes to win ask me how I can bear it,’ says Patterson. “They

1 in 3
because we all genuinely want to hear from anything from vouchers to a holiday). Rather are imagining a sweatshop environment with
our customers.” they talk about the atmosphere of the place, tyrannical managers and over-worked staff —
Unusually for a financial services call centre, which is described as “fantastic”, “friendly”, “like but it’s just not like that. The positive attitude

new customers join there are no scripts at first direct, allowing staff
to truly develop one-to-one relationships with
family”, “supportive” and “brilliant”.
Managers nurture this environment by
towards staff and customers and the great
improvements in call centres in recent years has
because of personal customers. And, far from being timed on each
call, agents are actively encouraged to chat. In
offering regular one-to-one coaching,
motivational ‘buzz’ sessions and recognition for
been proven by the fantastic performance of all
the centres in the Top 50 — and I hope it
recommendation fact, some customers have been known to make even small kindnesses towards customers or continues for a long time.”


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq,

Financial Services
Call centres have
been around in the
form of service and
telemarketing ‘hubs’
Tough economic times are putting Bupa for more than
increasing pressure on call centres in the BUPA MAKES a real
difference to so
were never 20 years, but it
banking sector. Luckily, though, financial many people, was only in the
helping them live
services firms have always grasped the
longer, healthier, mid-nineties, when
importance of customer service and were happier lives.
The people in our call
companies were able
the early adopters of call centres, which
means they are more advanced than most.
centres offer the personal to link calls to their
encouragement and
While an overall trend in the Top 50 support our customers computer systems,
revealed that many centres could do better
need at important and
often difficult times. Their
that the notion of
in terms of personalising service, the banks efforts really can’t be
under-estimated, as one
customer contact
and insurance companies excelled in this customer explained in an as an ‘industry’
area. The report from GfK NOP states that: emotional and heartfelt
really took hold
letter to the team:
“Financial services consistently received the “I went through a most
highest excellence ratings on the more difficult period of treatment
for lung cancer and the shock
subjective service elements, such as of having the disease was
friendliness, politeness and willingness to very difficult to come to terms highlighted — we only ever ENSURING THAT NATIONWIDE’S call centre
with. Your staff gave me offers great service is vital to the way we do
received words of criticism. The
help.” What’s more, 90 per cent of mystery personal words of kindness, care care I received from Bupa helped business. In fact, we recently revamped our
callers to the Top 50 financial firms were and encouragement to get well. This me come to terms with my illness and employee bonus scheme to place an even
was so special and I felt that Bupa kept my mind focused on beating it. greater focus on customer satisfaction.
satisfied or extremely satisfied with their really cared. I was not just another “I am one of your most grateful Under the new scheme, managers will
experience. Little wonder, then, that no less number on an insurance file.” customers and have probably got the review the way advisors handle customers’
“From my past experience of running word ‘Bupa’ running through my body calls and give them a score that will form a
than six out of the ten top performers in the a large public company, the good points key measure for their employee rewards.
like a stick of Brighton rock! Thank you.”
programme are from this sector. We also make sure we follow up with
customers to check how satisfied they are —
each month 1,200 customers are surveyed

49% Nearly half of consumers say they would be more loyal about the service they received from the
call centre. Some recent comments
to a company after a positive call centre experience included: “A very helpful chap
resolved all my issues,” and
“you gave the best service.”
Coventry Building But what really sets us

apart is Nationwide’s
Society PRIDE philosophy. PRIDE
“TALKING TO THE COVENTRY? It’s like stands for Putting
coming home.” What makes a customer say members first, Rising to
that about our call centre? Mrs Woods could the challenge, Inspiring
tell you. A long-standing member of the Overall performance score confidence, Delivering
Coventry, she had an appointment at a best value and
for financial services
medical centre on the same business park as Exceeding
the Society’s call centre. call centres expectations. In short,
Frail, anxious, tired, and now lost, she was PRIDE helps remind our staff
on the point of collapse. That was when Phil of the need to put themselves
Blount found her. An advisor with the in the customer’s shoes to really
Coventry, he was on his way in for an evening excel in the service
shift. He didn’t know where the medical they provide.
centre was either. He didn’t know Mrs Woods
was a member of the Society. He just knew ING DIRECT
he had to do something. In Mrs Woods’ TEAM LEADER Katie “There is a really open, behaviour and instant prizes
words, Phil rescued her. He calmed her, Halls describes how she family atmosphere at such as chocolates when we
helped her to the clinic and reunited her feels about working for ING, and there are regular get a customer compliment, or
with her husband. Then he went to work. ING Direct: “I am proud to be briefings with senior where an agent gives “wow”
Quite simply, talking to the part of a company with great managers. I’ve been working as customer service.
Coventry is “like coming home” commitment to their staff and part of a team who meet with “Recently, I received global
because of the people who customers. I have never worked the ceo and directors to discuss recognition as the UK Team
in an organisation that’s so ideas and exchange feedback. Leader of the Year and was
work here. Everyone knows
vibrant. Everyone is “Customer service is a real given the fabulous opportunity
their job is to help customers approachable, with all focus for us and we are to visit ING Direct Italy — an
and they love delivering on managers accessible and rewarded with bi-monthly amazing experience and one I
that responsibility. sitting amongst their teams. Oscars, recognising role model will never forget.”


8q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

LV Tesco Personal Finance Denplan

JOHN O’ROARKE, managing TESCO PERSONAL FINANCE is products and services, financial services. A JULIA DAWSON, director of customer services
director of LV= General the UK’s most successful from pet insurance to great example of this at Denplan, is sure that motivated, happy
Insurance, says: “Excellent supermarket bank. Since its credit cards. With 55 per is the Tesco Instant employees are essential for a successful
launch in 1997, we have grown cent of sales now Travel Insurance product,
customer service is central to the business and keeping customers happy.
to have over five million originating from the Internet which was an industry first.
culture in LV= and as our call centres are the “Senior management make sure they are
customer accounts. and 45 per cent of business This product lets customers
first point of contact for many of our customers, Tesco Personal Finance coming through the stores, we buy their travel insurance always available for staff in the open-plan
their success is of paramount importance. As a markets its products through have to make sure our products literally off-the-shelf. Another centre and a great deal of effort goes into
direct insurer, ensuring we provide an efficient, Tesco’s 1898 stores, with a are available where and when good example is in the in-store creating a sense of team work.
informative and friendly service is extremely permanent presence at over customers want them. cheque deposit facility. This “Our advisors recently took part in
important to us. 15,700 checkouts. Tesco Personal Finance aims means customers can also pay a charity “It’s a Knockout”, raising
“We believe in investing in the people who Since 1997, Tesco Personal to always be innovative in its cheques into their savings money for Dentaid, and also a
work for us and creating an excellent working Finance has launched 28 approach to delivering account as they shop. community action day, where
environment. We handle an average of 35,000 they gave a church garden and
calls a week, so it’s vital that staff reflect our a scout hut a makeover.”
friendly and open culture. And this spirit doesn’t go
“Throughout our business we actively unnoticed by customers. A recent
encourage a good work-life balance, and offer letter pays tribute to the culture of service
flexible working patterns to attract different excellence that we continue to nurture: “The
people to reflect our customer base. telephone conversations I just had are without
“LV= is a mutual organisation, meaning we doubt the finest example of customer service I
exist wholly for the benefit of our members and have ever experienced. It’s a credit to Denplan.”
customers. We aim to reflect this through our
customer services team and make our
customers feel valued.”
F&C Investments
AT F&C, WE TAKE time choosing our staff and
make no apologies for it. You can’t train
someone to naturally empathise with

the widow who’s never dealt with
finances, or the new parent who
desperately wants to make the right

calling Co-operative Financial Services

choices for their baby’s Child Trust
Fund. We use training to develop
financial knowledge, so we focus on
A new film based on WE’RE A COMPANY with soul — they build rapport with mandates? What other recruiting individuals who display an inherent
the most successful and it’s reflected in our contact
centres, where training
“During these uncertain
companies plough profits back
into the community through
ability and desire to help our customers.
Our customers are individuals, so we create an
English language book focuses new colleagues on the
core Co-operative
times, customers want to deal
with people who are friendly,
promoting responsible driving
and recycling?
environment where our staff can be individuals
too. We don’t provide scripts, or target call
in Indian history, One principles of value,
fairness and social
helpful and most importantly
whom they can trust,” says
The Co-operative’s vibrant,
dynamic contact centre
length, we just look for solutions. At F&C

Night In The Call responsibility. Ann-Marie Stagg, who heads environment is right at the
excellent customer service is a career choice,
not just a job, and there’s a real buzz in a team
We don’t target the contact centre. heart of the company and is a
Centre, is currently advisors on call Where else can customers credit to the passion, who know they are making a difference. As one
customer put it, they are: “brilliant...absolutely
handling times, but influence business practices commitment and dedication of
screening in India. rather on how well through customer-led those working within it. wonderful, very kind and very helpful.”

At last. Something to really shout about in

the financial services sector!
FTS - working on behalf of F&C Investments - is delighted to have achieved 3rd
place in the National Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service, organised by
Call Centre Focus Magazine. • Inbound & outbound
Winning this award is living testament to our continued dedication in providing programmes
our partners with telemarketing solutions that really work.
• Customer acquisition
It proves that appreciation for our partners’ hard-won brand values is central
to what we practice. • Customer retention
It shows beyond doubt the true value of the Treating Customers Fairly culture • Customer service
that is embedded throughout our organisation.
FTS is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas SA, a European leader in global financial services with a Standard and Poors rating of AA+
• Revenue generation
Authorised and Regulated by The Financial Services Authority. Financial Telemarketing Services Ltd, Company No 02794024.
Registered Office: New Horizons, Studio Way, Borehamwood, Herts. WD6 5XX

Call Andrea Peskett or Nathalie Moreau on: 020 8324 3300


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq.

“CHURCHILL INSURANCE is delighted to be an
Prudential inaugural member of the Top 50 Call Centres
THE CUSTOMER IS pivotal to everything for Customer service programme,” says Peter
we do in the sales centre. Our advisors Johnson, head of service at Churchill Insurance.
regularly suggest ways to improve our “The company’s core vision has always been
service based on their conversations about delivering outstanding customer
with customers. Many ideas are simple to
service. From running a dedicated 24-hour
implement, which means they are Direct Line claims line to handling customer enquiries
empowered to really make a difference.
Matt Hogan, head of direct marketing “DIRECT LINE’S ETHOS has 1985 with 63 employees and a It is this relationship with the and concerns, the call centre staff are geared
at PruHealth says: “PruHealth’s aim is to always been to provide the call centre in Croydon. It was customer that Direct Line is up to listen to and action customers’ needs.
make people healthier and we actively very best in customer service,” the first insurance company to now synonymous with. The They are also essential for realising Churchill’s
encourage our policyholders to engage says Frances Browning, head use the telephone as its main simple, straightforward ethos goal of not having any tricky claims forms to fill
in a healthy lifestyle. This positive of newsroom at Direct Line channel of communication. that customers can get a in should the worst happen, or laborious
attitude to health and wellbeing is Insurance. “In an increasingly This was revolutionary at the better deal by going direct — paperwork for policy amendments.”
reflected in the manner of our sales competitive market such as time, as out went the either on the phone or via the
Churchill is synonymous with its iconic
centre staff who make sure that a insurance, we know that our middleman, commissions, website — is still very relevant
service delivery will be an forms and jargon — and in came for customers today. bulldog, which burst onto TV
customer’s interaction with us is of the
highest possible standard.” important differentiator.” speed, simplicity and a Direct Line now has five call screens in 1996. His
Neil Bowyer, telephony director Direct Line began life in April common-sense human touch. centres across the UK. catchphrase ‘Oh yes!’ sums up
(direct distribution), added: “The Top 50 the firm’s attitude and is
initiative was a fantastic opportunity to mimicked up and down the

Five things you

learn how real consumers benchmark us UK. Churchill nodding dogs can
against other great companies across a be seen in many cars, as 1,000
variety of different industries. I’m are sold each month.
extremely proud of the team for getting
us into a top ten position, and we’ll use
the results to further improve our
should never put up
customer experience.”
with from a call centre:
1. Interminable and confusing menus — especially
ones that are not specific enough and end up
taking you back to the beginning
2. Promises to do things that are then not done

3. NETMA (Nobody Ever Lloyds TSB Insurance

Tells Me Anything): lack ROBERT REGAN, HEAD OF sales and
of knowledge about a operations at Lloyds TSB describes his work:
“When I’m asked outside of work what I do, as
Abbey company’s products soon as I mention the three words insurance,
call, and centre, I get one of two responses:
secret to giving great service is down to
or services 1. a glazed look appears across their face,
employing great people. followed by a swift change of subject
Our call centres create an environment 4. Having to redial other 2. a tirade of how much call centres anger
that encourages staff to take ownership them, with their absurd wait times, etc,
of the service that they deliver for every departments, rather than So why is it that I am really proud of the place
single customer — and that approach is I work? Because I‘m responsible for making
reflected in some of the comments that being put through around 3,500 promises to customers every
Abbey is starting to receive. One
week that when something really
customer recently left a comment to say
that the adviser they spoke to was “very
5. Lack of courtesy bad happens in their life,
polite and helped me with exactly what If any of these do someone from my business
will make things better.
was needed — thanks a lot Abbey, you’ve
restored my faith in the banking system”. happen, make sure Have you ever been burgled?
Employing friendly people that Or flooded? Lost something
customers can depend on in this way is you complain to a precious? Or accidentally spilt
critical — but it’s also the hardest thing to
get right. Luckily for Abbey, having manager — companies red wine on your brand new cream
carpet? It’s not usually until something goes
enjoyed success at the National Sales
Awards and also scooping a prestigious need to know when wrong that you then think about your
insurance company in a different light.
Agent of the Month award earlier this
year, it looks as though our staff really
their staff are not Yes, we are a business and are fully aware
are committed to making sure that the
customer continues to come first.
performing well. that we’re here to make money, but we never
lose sight of the fact that we are here to
Simon Roncoroni, SR Consulting protect our customers.


10q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Annoying. Sweatshops.
Why is it that these words are so often used about call
centres more than any other type of service?
Yes, there are some bad ones, but the majority provide an
excellent, cost effective means of communication. It’s that
Local government has in recent years recognised the positives
for both staff and customers alike.
In Slough,we launched a multi channel centre,MyCouncil,
in 2005. Over 300,000 customer enquiries come in annually now. More importantly, we
fixed first time, over 85% of those enquiries. Hardly ‘incompetent’?!
Independent Borough surveys indicate a 14% increase in customer satisfaction with Slough
Borough Council since MyCouncil opened. A staggering 81% of customers were satisfied with the
service they received when using MyCouncil direct.
Not so annoying then.
As for the team, many of whom have been here since day one; say they take pride in
their role. Stressful days are shared and so is light-hearted ‘banter’. And the newest
members, well some of them were customers. Would you actively seek to join a
‘sweatshop’? Didn’t think so.
So before you go down that well trodden road of negative opinion, why not first try out some of
the great service centres. Pop into ours if you are in Slough.
We think you’ll be surprised.

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Call 0871 360 2203 or visit


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq&&

Neilson Active Holidays
THE STAFF IN OUR reservations team are not
the monotone type that put you off going on
your holiday. In fact, they are the opposite and

travel and leisure

positively bubble over with excitement when
talking about Neilson holidays. The reason?
They love what they do. Most members of
the contact centre team are ex-season
staff who have tried and tested Neilson
holidays first-hand. We make a valid point to
recruit reservations staff who share our
passion for active fun – whether it’s on the
slopes or the sea. We actively An interesting observation about travel TOP PERFORMER
encourage staff to visit our Holiday Extras
resorts through centres is that they make very little effort to
educational, company- give extra information to callers. We’ve “WE AIM TO CREATE a
funded trips or concessions unique environment
that can be enjoyed with
basically made them a bit lazy by doing for our team which
family and friends. Thanks to tonnes of research on the Internet before reflects how they deal
this first-hand experience, we’re with our customers,” says
able to give our customers best tips, advising
ringing to book with all the exact details. Peter Mooney, head of
them on anything from best-suited resort, Holiaymakers can expect that to change, operations at market leading
through room layout, to available equipment. travel add-on company,
We feel this makes our customer service
though, as travel and leisure companies Holiday Extras. An open,
stand head and shoulders above the rest and realise that offering details of other services relaxed working atmosphere
ensures we give our customers the best combined with an award-winning
is not only good customer service, but also
experience when booking a Neilson holiday. office building set in the Kent training courses to keep knowledge
offers additional sales opportunities. countryside provide the and skills up to date.
foundations for the excellent A performance-related bonus
The good news is that nearly all (96 per
customer service that Holiday system, prize giveaways, transparent
cent) enquiries were resolved first time — Extras consistently delivers. career progression and a lively social
The centre handles one million calls scene keep morale high. The team
a major tick in the box for any call centre
annually and quality of communication make regular use of a variety of
interaction. What’s more, the overriding with customers is one of the key internal communication channels
measures of staff performance.Every where issues are resolved quickly.
measure of success for these centres is how
one of the 120 team members “I personally think it’s
satisfied their customers are because they receives a two-week induction, absolutely critical to keep your
want you to feel happy about their brand. Just a quarterly morale meeting team happy,” concludes
with Mooney, a monthly Mooney. “If they’re happy,
as well, then, that 92 per cent of our mystery coaching session and regular the customer is happy.”
shoppers found these centres easy to use.

Virgin Atlantic
CUST TRIC is a key word in the
95% Nearly all of the mystery shoppers got through to
entertainment, travel and leisure centres first time
Virgin Atlantic contact centre. Virgin
Atlantic customers have very high
P&O Ferries Haven Holidays
expectations and the staff are recruited OUR CALL CENTRE HAS been “THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE is a
and trained to deliver these ‘brilliant painted in yellow, thought to core ethos throughout our
basics’ to meet expectations and add business,” says Haven Holidays’
be the most powerful of
‘magic touches’ to exceed them. Which call centre manager Sean Power,
might explain why they get at least ten
earth colours, symbolising
who has been with the company
thank you letters each week. “One of the wisdom, tolerance and for 17 years. “The customer’s
perks of the job is reading the wonderful patience — qualities we encourage in our first impression of their holiday is set by the call
letters that our customers have taken the agents. Giant murals, specially chosen to evoke centre, so it’s incredibly important.”
trouble to write,” says John Giddings, happy thoughts, adorn the walls and large picture The success of the call centre can be seen not
general manager of the contact centre. windows offering a panoramic view of the English just in the sales figures, but in the positive
The monthly call quality programme is Channel create a bright and positive environment. response from customers:
designed to truly measure the customer “If there were more Kims in this world it would
Our teams become tribes — each one
experience, as opposed to ‘tick box’ be a better place, she has restored my faith in
recognisable by its Totem Pole. At the head of
exercise. As Giddings says,”Does it really human nature’, wrote one customer after
matter whether or not the agent used the each of these is a bear, a creature believed in booking a break in Blackpool. “I wish every
customer’s name three times? What really Native American folklore to possess the power to company had a team like yours, then maybe
matters is how good the experience really assume the form of any being it meets. This customers would not get so irritated,” said
was” And the monthly customer reminds our agents that through empathy with another. “I’d like to congratulate
satisfaction survey supports the call our customers, we create a service they’ll want to you on an excellent service.”
quality programme. “It’s pointless having use again. wrote Mr Smart.
a yearly measure,” says Giddings. “If But the centre has to be good
Each individual’s efforts determine the
something is wrong, we need to know for the team as well. Rob
customer’s perception of our service quality and a
about it as soon as possible.” There’s no O’Brien sums it up by saying:
doubt that customer service is taken sense of pride in our company’s achievements in “I’ve tried other call centres but I
very seriously at Virgin Atlantic and turn encourages the development of an inclusive love it here. The training is
we believe the personal touch gives team culture. It’s this concept of cross-functional brilliant and the whole working
us a competitive advantage. team-work that drives our business success. experience is really fun and enjoyable.”


12q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

average salary for a new
agent in the travel sector.
Agents who leave call
centres in the travel sector
most frequently cite low
pay as the reason. National Rail Enquiries
“REMEMBER, IT IS AN ACTUAL person on the

other end of the phone” became more than just
a saying when an advisor for National Rail
Enquiries (NRE) was seriously injured in a
motorbike accident.
number of call centre Gordon D’souza, a key member of the NRE
agents in the industry contact centre team in Mumbai, India was left
in a coma and on a ventilator fighting for his

life. Determined to help, the entire NRE team
sprang into action. The same passion that
drives the outstanding performance levels of
300 advisors in Rotherham, South Yorkshire
average number of seconds and 300 advisors in Mumbai, India was
taken to pick up a call in employed to raise thousands of pounds
to assist in paying for his critical care.
this sector (seems longer, Tejpal Singh, head of contact centres
doesn’t it?) for NRE, says: “I am very proud of the
way the team came together and

really put themselves out.” Gordon’s
condition has improved and although he
remains in hospital, he is in a stable condition.
Singh concludes: “It’s not so much what we do,
percentage of callers who as it is who is doing it that makes the NRE
got through first time to contact centres so special.”
centres in this sector

the proportion of email
work for one of the world’s biggest toy WHETHER IT’S by
companies it’s the best time of the year. Over
interactions is (more than train, coach or bus,
the next few months 100 multi-lingual, almost any other sector) customers are at the heart of
multi-skilled advisors from all over Europe Statistics taken from ContactBabel UK Contact
everything we do at
will be sitting in Slough waiting to talk to Centre Operational Review, 5th edition National Express, and for
consumers from over 15 countries about the those with disabilities, we
LEGO sets they want for Christmas 2008. want to pay them a little
Here’s what the LEGO Group’s experience extra attention.
and innovation director has to say about the Emirates To achieve our aim of ‘Making
impact contact centre advisors have on the “CUSTOMERS’ FIRST Austria, Italy and Switzerland, will help provide a professional Travel Simpler’, our award-winning Assisted
way LEGO develops new toys: “In the product IMPRESSIONS of us are likely to 365 days a year. It’s therefore assessment of how the airline Travel Team gives an extra helping hand to
development area, we are very fortunate originate with a phone call to vitally important we deliver an talks with its customers.” thousands of people travelling the country
to have committed creative individuals our European contact centre end-to-end customer Regarded as one of the every month. What’s more, the National
whose passion for the products, proactive located in Wilmslow, experience and our goals world’s most dynamic and Express Disability Group, which involves
approach to problem-solving and deep Manchester,” says Paul include: getting through to an fastest growing carriers, various focus groups nationwide, debates
Henderson-Spoors, contact agent quickly, empathy with Emirates flies more than
concern for consumers make for a highly- travel issues to find the best solutions and
centre manager at the customers, and resolving 17.5million passengers a year.
focused dialogue during our product ensure we are providing the right level of
European centre. “We handle enquiries in a single call. Since its launch in 1985, it has
development process. Input from our up to approximately 130,000 “We’re always looking at received more than 400 support.
product specialists in the contact centre is an calls per month from ways of improving our service awards in recognition of its National Express also has a strong
essential component in developing new and customers based in the UK, levels and our involvement efforts to provide unsurpassed commitment to employee engagement and
better products.” Ireland, France, Germany, with the Top 50 programme levels of customer service. recognising outstanding performance.
“Working for National Express is a really
Emirates serves a rapidly expanding network, enjoyable experience,” says Umar Imtiaz at our
People who call Lego give stretching across 100 destinations in 62 countries Birmingham contact centre. His team were
great feedback because rewarded recently for being part of a winning
team that achieved ambitious customer
they speak to fun, satisfaction targets. “This incentive was a
reliable and engaging brilliant bonus and a great way for the company
to show us that our hard work has not gone
advisors who embody unnoticed and that my involvement does
the brand values matter,” concludes Imtiaz.


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq&(

Sky Eurostar
“Sky warmly welcomes the opportunity AT THE EUROSTAR contact
to benchmark our performance with
centre we provide a personal
other leading organisations,” says sales
contact point for our
director Dave Rumble. “Our goal is to
deliver a simple, reliable and personal service customers, whether by phone,
to all our customers and we plan to use the e-mail or the good old-fashioned written word.
Top 50 initiative to support the continuous Why are we different? Because we
development of our leading customer encourage all our highly motivated staff to use
management capabilities.” the personal touch, scripts are a no-no,
Customer service is at the heart of our personality is a big YES! We pride ourselves in
business and we are one of Scotland’s biggest
the fact that our people have the tools and
private sector employers with more than
personalities to deliver great service; giving
6,000 people in our contact centres in
Livingston, Dunfermline and Uddingston. We our travellers a personalised experience every
place considerable investment in training and time they contact us, whether they are

coaching our people and we are also very booking a ticket, claiming points or raising an
proud of our award-winning accessibility issue – the mantra “Think Customer” is at the
Premier Inn service, which offers a one-stop-shop for heart of everything we do.
disabled customers. As a result, typical customer feedback
Sky is the UK’s leading entertainment
THE UK’S BIGGEST and includes comments like these:
company and operates the most
fastest growing hotel “The whole conversation left me loving
comprehensive multi-channel, multi-
chain, Premier Inn has Overall performance score platform television service in the UK and Eurostar even more.”
more than 500 hotels for entertainment, travel Ireland, and our aim is to “She was excellent; very helpful, polite,
and 37,000 rooms in the and leisure call centres offer unparalleled choice
21million viewers
and 8.9million
cheerful and courteous-an excellent
UK and Ireland. At the in content, delivered
households enjoy a
ambassador for Eurostar.”
heart of the organisation is through innovative and vast choice of “I just wanted to drop you a short line to give
the contact centre team who technological advanced channels on Sky the highest commendation to a member of
deal with three million calls and platforms that best serve and 3.4million use your team.”
the growing demands of Sky+ to record and
emails a year and who, in 2007/08, “I cannot remember the last time I
today’s viewers. store programmes
contributed more than £1million to the encountered such a friendly and helpful
success of person at the end of a telephone.”
Premier Inn. Only around 3-5% of UK call centre functions went “I cannot praise your services enough... I
Thanks to our diverse team and their ability overseas during the offshoring boom. Government- walked around with a smile on my face for the
to meet the needs of our similarly diverse rest of the day. Thank you so much for your
guests, we ensure customers know what to
commissioned research in 2005 suggested that any wonderful customer care!”
expect and that we will deliver what we say trade gap created would be more than filled by the
we will —every time. general growth trend for business services
Communication is ongoing and varied to keep
the team up-to-date with the many changes
and challenges affecting the company — this Thomas Cook
includes urestricted access to the Internet, THE VICTORIAN pioneer who completely focused helped to arrange
weekly huddles, team briefings, brand founded Thomas Cook and on improving wheelchair assistance
knowledge and days out, as well as Keep In gave it his name described customer service and at the airport. The
Touch senior management briefings and himself as “the willing and creating a workplace journey went well and the
conferences. The employee survey always devoted servant of the culture committed to next day, when I answered
travelling public”. learning and development. the phone, I was very surprised
returns a score of more than 90 per
Today, more than 160 years Our fantastic staff are to hear it was Valerie asking if
cent and the ad-hoc feedback
later, those words remain a celebrated every quarter when Dad had arrived safely in the
we receive is great too: fitting foundation for the our Customer Heroes are UK. We have been travelling
“Always a good atmosphere”, company he created. The goal announced. Typical of these is for years and until now, I have
“fantastic flexibility”, “I feel of the Thomas Cook sales Valerie Lickerish. One never received a follow up call.
appreciated and part of a team centre is to be number one in customer said: “My father is I can’t stop telling my friends
that’s making a contribution”. the travel industry and is 78-years-young and Valerie about how kind Valerie was.”


14q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Public sector
You remember those days when TOP PERFORMER

the first two pages of your Thomson Local were Cambridgeshire County Council
Kent County Council
Derek Smith, of Contact Kent, the call centre
taken up with separate numbers for each of the
for Kent County Council, says: “I have worked different departments of your local council?
in contact centres, for many years, but this is
the most complicated, diverse and life Well, in 2006 Tony Blair decided this wasn’t
changing environment of them all.
“The commitment we have to our customers
good enough and asked chairman of Her
is seen through the variety of calls we Majesty’s Revenue and Customs David Varney
handle and our customer focus. We don’t
target how long a call should last, but focus to come up with a blueprint for creating call
on what is right for that caller. The service is
offered all day every day and with no IVR or
centres for local and central government that
speech recognition — it’s a service for people people could contact by simply phoning one
delivered by people. A typical day in the life
of a customer service representative may number. The result? The public sector is catching
involve starting at 12pm and finishing at
8pm, taking 162 calls of all different kinds,
up to the private sector in terms of customer (or
including: enrolling 22 people on evening citizen) satisfaction.
courses; helping one person to apply for a
disabled Blue Badge and chasing up an This is quite something when you consider BALANCING THE CONCEPT of the caller and signed off with the words: “Just tell
application made three weeks ago; logging on the line being your next best friend them I love them and that I’m sorry.”
two requests for a pot hole to be filled in and
that agents working in public sector call centres and delivering cost effective and Realising the caller was distressed, the
reporting a faulty streetlight; making have to cope with an unimaginable variety of efficient customer service is not that call handler contacted the council’s
appointments to register five deaths and easy, but it’s what Cambridgeshire Direct Emergency Duty Team who responded
seven births ; explaining the rights when queries and requests — anything from what strives to deliver. Chief executive Mark to find the caller had taken a cocktail of
buying a second hand car to three people;
and renewing 20 library books.
time the bin man comes to questions about Lloyd recently praised staff for the alcohol and drugs and had fallen. The
support they give to the residents of appropriate emergency services were
claiming child benefit or talking to someone who Cambridgeshire and for “making soon on the scene.
has recently suffered bereavement. In spite of customer service the norm.” The whole team‘s customer service
Testament to the staff’s dedication is ethos is simply summed up by one of the
this, the survey showed that 93 per cent of
the recognition that a routine library dedicated employee: “Providing
queries are resolved on the first call and centres service call was in fact a desperate plea customer service is my passion, it’s a
for help. A caller rang the call centre part of who I am. If I went a day without
came in for particular praise for being easy to
asking for them to contact her friends helping people, I wouldn’t be me!”
use and reliable.

Surrey County Council

that “having to phone the council” may fill some
Liverpool Direct
people with dread, because the perception is
LIVERPOOL DIRECT LIMITED (LDL) provides often one of an impersonal service and
public access services to more than one bureaucracy. But we treat all our customers as
million customers and is proud to be able to individuals, recognising that different people
shatter the false perception many people choose to contact us in a variety of ways at
have of ‘battery hen’ contact centres. Highly different times of day. With customer
trained staff use state of the art technology satisfaction scores consistently over 95 per
to provide services to some of the most cent every month, our success is due to the
vulnerable sections of society. hard work and professionalism of our team
We’re particularly proud of our life-saving of 100 dedicated customer service agents
Telecare service, which helps the elderly who handle around 50,000 calls a month, the
maintain independent living at home. The vast majority of which are answered in less
Telecare system ensures that anyone with than 20 seconds.
the system installed at home will be Driving Standards Agency Nick Skellett, leader of the county council,
responded to quickly, potentially saving a life. Staff from every level of the executive. are keen to change the poor
says: “Focusing on the needs of our 1.1million
For example, when the gas sensor was organisation describe the “We balance daily the needs of image of call centres.” Victoria residents is key to the way that we conduct
triggered in the home of a 78-year-old man work of the call centre: our business customers and Wright, supervisor. our business across the whole of the council.
with dementia, it alerted staff at the LDL call “I’m delighted that the staff the public — we’re more than “I enjoy working at the DSA, as The fantastic work carried out by our contact
centre, who rang Transco. They found a leak in our call centre have received aware that we have to be the there is a friendly, family type centre is truly representative of our ethos of
and the cooker pipe was such recognition for their best.” Jason Falk, customer of atmosphere, which helps placing the customer at the heart
Founded in 2001,
made safe. Or the example LDL provides a commitment to our customers. operations manager. morale and productivity. of everything we do.”
The work they do is vital to “There’s never a dull moment Managers are always
of the 76-year-old who fell range of services, And it’s a great place to
DSA and their place in the Top working here – it’s a fast paced supportive and understanding
and pressed the button on including debt 50 is testament to their hard environment where no two towards staff and help guide
work too, as agent Rashmi
collection, payroll
his fall pendant, alerting services and an work and dedication. I am very days are the same. It’s good to and assist with career Dave concludes: “It’s so
the LDL call centre, which emergency centre proud of their achievement.” see through the Top 50 progression.” Dave Shell, call motivating to work in a team
then sent an ambulance. for Defra Rosemary Thew, chief programme that companies centre agent. environment like this.”


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq&*

£14,759 Her Majesty’s Revenue

and Customs (HMRC)

HMRC’S AWARD WINNING contact centres
salary of a new call centre deal with 60million calls every year, across a
agent in the public sector wide-range of different subjects. Our aim is
simple: to make it as easy as possible for our

customers to get it right.
We’ve come a long way — as several award
Overall performance score wins and an overall customer satisfaction
score of 90 per cent show — but there’s still
for public sector lots to do and we welcome the feedback
proportion of calls met with call centres from the Top 50 survey.
an IVR system We can’t afford to stand still. We’re
opening a new call centre at Lillyhall,

Cumbria in early 2009, which will be HMRC’s
20th UK contact centre, and will take us up
to a total headcount of around 10,000 staff.
Head of HMRC contact centres Linda

the average number of Maslen says: “Our staff receive extensive

training and support to deliver a high
seconds to answer a call to a level of customer service that reflects
our commitment to providing
public sector centre exceptional service through

exceptional people.
“The new Lillyhall contact
centre will bring continued
improvement to our
customers’ experience
the proportion of time agents and support HMRC’s
business plans.”
spend on the phone as
opposed to completing
admin tasks London Borough
of Lambeth
contact centre answers calls
of calls are dealt with through
LAMBETH, IN SOUTH WEST London has high
levels of unemployment and residents
claiming benefits. But the council, together
with JobCentre Plus, has come up with a
and emails on vehicle and scheme to encourage residents who have
driver-related enquiries from self-service (compared to an been unemployed for long periods of time
the public, commercial customers industry average of 17%) back into work and to improve performance
and public bodies — but that doesn’t even in our contact centres.
Statistics taken from ContactBabel UK Contact Centre
begin to convey the complex and in-depth Operational Review, 5th edition
Residents who had not worked for long
enquiries our contact centre advisors handle periods of time or had low skill levels were
on a daily basis. given an opportunity to train and work in
We know that the initial contact from a customer care on a part-time basis.
member of the public is DVLA’s first Merlin Newell is a shining example of how
opportunity to make a good impression and successful the scheme has been. She
demonstrate the professionalism of the explains: “Being out of an office
organisation. Therefore, our customer service environment for such a long time made it
agents are highly-trained and have a difficult for me to find work. Since I joined
deserved reputation for delivering a quick and the council, I have been trained in a number
quality service that’s bespoke to the of service areas, including parking, street
customer’s needs. care, registry, and generally to inform
The ‘buzz’ created by the contact centre’s residents about the range of services
vibrant working conditions and the offered by the council. I’d definitely
enthusiastic approach of our staff is always a recommend this training scheme to others.”
source of comment by visitors to the centre.
The ongoing focus is firmly on performance
and continuous improvement, with customer
satisfaction and multiple channel self-
services at the forefront of all we do.
Slough Borough Council
SLOUGH IS OFTEN regarded as The customer service to handle each one with
Worried about staff being a true microcosm of the UK in department, MyCouncil, leads courtesy and professionalism.
exposed to angry callers, terms of its diverse make-up.
A booming ‘mini’ economy
the way in that commitment by
providing help and advice to
“We want to demonstrate
that we are committed to
there are examples of and the first and biggest our residents. Based in a state service excellence, “ insists
business park in Europe, of the art facility in Slough head of customer service Zena
public sector centres creates a uniquely challenging High Street, MyCouncil is able Miller. “To be able to measure
launching training to environment for the council. to engage with residents ourselves against the best
But we are committed to through email, telephone and across a broad spectrum in the
help agents recognise delivering excellent value for in person. Top 50 will hopefully dispel the
and effectively handle money services to all our
residents and to improving
In the past year alone, the
centre has dealt with 500,000
myth that the Public sector
somehow don’t care about
and diffuse ‘phone rage’ accessibility to all. customer enquiries and strives their customers.”


16q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Retail and
distribution Charles
NICK WHEELER, founder of

Thanks to the Internet, home shopping TOP PERFORMER

fine shirt-maker Charles
Tyrwhitt, has two driving
has never been easier, but when you have a Laithwaites passions: great quality products and
outstanding customer service. He spends a
more complex order or a query, you might need SUPERB CUSTOMER service is something couple of hours every month listening to
calls, he replies personally to his customer
to call the retailer. So how does the shopping we pride ourselves on at Laithwaites.
correspondence and every day finds him
Everyone at the company on all levels works
experience stack up on the phone? Pretty well, hard to develop the personal relationships
avidly reading feedback left on the website.
With that sort of direction it is hardly
actually, as this sector was revealed to be the we establish with customers. This is surprising that the call centre is committed
something that has been the essence of the to understanding what the customer wants
strongest performer of the five, with the top company since it was started by Tony and then trying to go one better.
average score and three retail companies and Barbara Laithwaite 40 years ago. There is a strong belief that the success of
Almost everyone who works for the brand is down to the commitment of its
making it into the top ten performers. Laithwaites starts, or gains
people. The Charles Tyrwhitt team focuses
on giving individual service rather than just
This could be because the best retail and experience of, working in our call taking orders and every call is seen as an
centre before moving into the wider
distribution companies are realising that a business. The experience of direct
opportunity to gather valuable information,
or solve a problem and put a smile on the
time of economic uncertainty means holding contact with our customers, dealing customer’s face. After all, it could be the only
with wine enquires and helping iron out any chance we have to make sure that customer
on to existing customers is more important problems gives our talented employees a buys from us again.
than ever. And that means spending more key understanding of excellent service. This
commitment is then taken with them
time and money making sure that every M&S Direct
wherever they end up within the company.
customer contact is a good one. We never rest on our laurels and are always WE AIM TO CONSISTENTLY
striving to go the extra mile. Call centres in delight our customers with
GfK’s mystery shoppers found that in 74 service that is personalised
the UK do not have the best of reputations,
per cent of cases they got through in less but we are proud to challenge that with a and appropriate to ensure
they keep shopping with us.
passion and attention to detail to ensure the
than a minute, compared to an overall What our customers say about us
customer experience is the best it can be.
is vital to our continued development, as it’s
average of 58 per cent. only through listening to their feedback that
we can drive positive change. One customer

told us recently: “Elaine took the time to fully
of UK consumers would be less likely to purchase from understand my issues, she made enquiries of

a company after a negative contact centre experience other areas of M&S, returned my calls and has
fully resolved my issue, all the while being
sensitive and sympathetic to my needs.”
Our four contact centres have to be
Boots enormously flexible to meet demand, ranging
“WE’RE PROUD OF our heritage and value the trust from 500 to over 1,000 staff at any one time.
Despite the scale of our operations, the key to
that people put in the brand,” says Graham Hardy,
getting the customer experience right is the
head of customer care at Boots. “And the call
quality of individuals working for us. We
centre is a key part of maintaining that trust.” proactively seek out positive, respectful and
Based at the central support offices in determined people who take ownership for
Nottingham, the centre has 250 seats with recovering any issues that arise.
a seasonally fluctuating population — and It’s important to make everyone feel part of
we even have some agents working from one virtual M&S team so that we can project
home. Everyone is expert at their role and the brand consistently. After all, it’s not just a
contact centre, it’s an M&S contact centre.
has a desire to give the best customer care,
reflecting the quality of service and expertise
delivered in our stores. As the primary support for
the Advantage loyalty card, and Boots
Opticians, our call centre employees are keen to
look after customers with helpful advice and to put
things right when they go wrong.
We truly value our staff
Boots UK Ltd is the
and offer them a safe, retail business of
supportive environment, Alliance Boots,
where they’re kept formed from a
informed, where we seek merger with
Alliance UniChem in
their views, and where they 2006, and has 2,550
are offered opportunities healthcare outlets
for personal development. all over the country


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq&,

SPECSAVERS WAS BUILT upon establishing the call queen, says: “It’s nice
the premise of value for money, centre was recruiting to be recognised and
quality eye care and strong individuals with a to work in a company
customer service. Therefore, it personality and who with such a huge focus on
was only natural to create a call enjoy helping people. This exceeding expectations.”
centre to further improve focus has not only created a Jonathan George, head of call
customer service. Mary centre for customer service centre services says: “The
Perkins, founder of Specsavers, excellence, but also a great customer is at the core of the
says: “The call centre is vital in place to work. centre and staff are always
maintaining high standards of Staff are rewarded for encouraged to do whatever
customer service and I’m achieving high standards and they can to assist.” Our place
delighted that all their hard can even aspire to becoming in the Top 50 will ensure we
work is being recognised.” king or queen of call quality. continue to develop ways to to
An essential part of Laura Kellow-Web, the current deliver world-class service.

Dealing with customers

can sometimes be hard…
Tech support: I need you to right click on the desktop
Customer: Ok
Tech support: Did you get a pop-up menu?
Customer: No
Tech support: Ok, sir. Can you tell me what you’ve done up until this point?
Customer: Yes — you told me to write click, so I wrote click

John Lewis Direct

Lewis partnership means
customer service is at
the forefront of what we
do. Perhaps this is why is
consistently ranked one
of the UK’s top online
shopping destinations. aims to Direct says: “It’s very “It’s really important
be the best of the store exciting to work in such a that we exceed those
online and has grown fast-paced environment expectations, and my job
incredibly fast, with full for such a well-known is to work with the
year sales of £268million brand. We have been contact centres to help
in 2007. That growth has working on moving from deliver that. Customer
been supported by an being a fantastic
Comet in-house team at head e-commerce website to
service will be crucial in
the run-up to Christmas
office in Chelsea, as well become a great shopping this year and we are
COMET CELEBRATES its 75th birthday this year
as two contact centres in experience, which quite working to ensure that
and the business has grown to become one of
Scotland. rightly drives a high we’ll be on top of our
the largest electrical specialists — with customer Richard King, customer expectation of excellent game to support the sale
care at its core. service development service over the phone of great value and
Click & Chat, an award-winning innovative manager for John Lewis and via email. inspiring products.”
online chat service, which is run from Comet’s
customer information centre in Hull, is a great
example of Comet’s commitment to remaining
at the cutting edge of customer care. This chat
service offers online customers immediate

access to expert product knowledge and
advice through a Click & Chat button on the
screen that connects directly in real time to a
product expert within the Comet
customer information centre.
Initially launched to support
Plasma and LCD TVs, the Overall performance score
service has proved so popular for retail and distribution
(90 per cent of customers rate call centres
it as “extremely useful”), it now
covers most product areas. Click &
Chat allows us to replicate online the excellent
personal service that’s available in our stores.


18q TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Times

Telecoms 82%
and Utilities Overall performance score
for telecoms and utilities
call centres

With an increasing number of TOP PERFORMER

price comparison websites springing up, it’s United Utilities

never been easier to switch suppliers — and Carphone Warehouse
most telecoms and utilities businesses are “I BELIEVE THAT THE Top 50 programme will
help the UK contact centre marketplace
realising that in order to hold on to their
demonstrate that in recent years a
existing customers they are going to have tremendous amount of great work
to compete on more than just price. has been achieved in helping
organisations truly put the
This means that a great deal of investment customer back at the heart of
is being made to ensure that each and every decisions and processes they
WHEN IT COMES to professional Powe, is full of praise: “Vicky is a implement,” says Nigel
customer that contacts a telecoms or utility customer service, Vicky Bigrigg compassionate individual. She is 100 Pearson, director customer
company feels good about doing business is a shining light. The per cent committed to her job, and service and online sales at
dedication of this United always goes that extra step to Carphone Warehouse (CPW).
with that supplier. Utilities customer service guarantee customer satisfaction.” Founded in 1989 by Charles Dunstone,
Indeed, for a sector that tends to perform advisor, and her 400 Customer services director Brian CPW was built on the premise of great
colleagues, has helped the Hurd adds: “Our team is the main customer service and the ability to deliver
badly in industry benchmarking surveys, North West water company point of contact for more than seven ‘simple, impartial advice’ in the ever-
the centres in the Top 50 are proving once perform best of the telecoms million people across the North West. complex world of mobile phone purchasing.
and utilities companies in the Top 50. It’s a fast moving and complex With the same principle the company has
and for all that ringing your water company The 29-year-old from Cleaton Moor industry, and employees need to be expanded into nine further countries across
or mobile company is not always the arduous deals with billing issues affecting extremely knowledgeable, and full of Europe — and even in North America.
water and wastewater — and doesn’t initiative. Vicky is a great example of And to further build the company’s market-
task you might expect. In fact, a whopping rest until a customer query is this philosophy in action. We are all leading position, CPW is taking steps to evolve
97 per cent of queries posed by our mystery resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. thrilled to be recognised as among its customer proposition and offer a broader
Vicky’s team manager, Barbara the best in the country.” retail experience. By applying the same
shoppers were resolved efficiently. customer principles it brought to mobile
phones to the laptop and broadband market,

21% The relatively low proportion of outbound calls made the company is democratising a wider world
of technology for customers.
by utility suppliers may surprise many consumers
Vodafone Orange EDF Energy O2
VODAFONE IS ON a mission WE HAVE OVER a million conversations with EFFECTIVE CUSTOMER WE BELIEVE THAT happy
customers every week, but the real challenge employees lead to happy
to allow people to see the service is about building a
is that customers today are now more product- customers, so we always try
centre as a learning and two-way relationship. Quite
savvy and demanding of top-quality service to give our people the same
development environment rightly, our customers demand great experience we give our
than ever before.
and as somewhere that is At Orange we understand that good more and more from their energy customers. In fact, employee
creating strong foundations for the future of customer service means feeling valued and supplier. It might at first seem an odd thing for involvement is becoming part of our DNA,
the industry as a whole. For example, the “Take understood, knowing someone owns your us to say, but we want our customers to use less with a number of new initiatives, including a
a Chance” initiative, where school children are problem and will help, and being delighted energy. That’s because, as a company, we are in group of frontline workers playing a key role
brought into the call centre in order with the service. We are evolving this for the long-term and we believe that in decision-making and a full scale inquiry to
our business to help us achieve find out from retail customers what great
to dispel any misconceptions of the climate change is the biggest challenge we all
this, including the launch of our service feels like.
environment. This raises our profile face. Our advisors are trained to give energy
Brilliant Service strategy. Front So it’s more than an inspiring working
and demonstrates to the local efficiency advice to customers, helping them environment, great benefits and fantastic
line staff will be managed and
community our commitment to rewarded based on delivering cut their carbon footprint and save money. career opportunities that make O2 a great
them, our company, and the mobile brilliant customer service, rather We aim to reduce the intensity of our own place to work. It may sound like a cliché, but
and call centre industry. than working towards sales or CO2 emissions from our electricity production it’s our people that make the difference. A
One of these pupils was Hannah efficiency targets. by 60 per cent by 2020. We have had a long- year ago, O2 people all made a promise to
Wilkinson, who joined us last year This marks a fundamental shift term commitment to keeping our call centres in each other — a shared
away from traditional vision of the O2 we wanted “We are number one
and was a finalist in the National the UK and we are also continuing to lead the
call centre models, to be. We called it The O2 in our market for
Customer Service Awards 2008. industry with our special help for our most customer numbers
but we believe People Promise and it is
She says: “I was so taken with the vulnerable customers. these seven simple
and satisfaction and
this new focus is
people at Vodafone. It’s a great needed to make It might seem ambitious, but as an energy principles that underpin
have out-performed
the rest of the
place to work and such an our customers company, we recognise we are part of the everything we stand for as market in terms of
opportunity to make a difference feel valued and problem — so we must be part of the solution: a company and everything profit growth over
to our customers. I love it!” cared for. save today, save tomorrow. we do for each other. the last few years.”


TOP 50 CALL CENTRES FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE produced by United Business Media in association with The Timesq&.

The wacky
science bit
Touch-tone menus have
given call centre technology
a bad name, but recent
advances could improve
your customer experience

Speech analytics
WE’VE ALL HEARD the phrase: “Your call may
be recorded for training purposes,” but
there’s another reason for these recordings.
By scanning calls with sophisticated voice
recognition software, computers can pick
What can be done to out phrases such as “very disappointed” or
even a word like “wow”, to find out what
improve the service customers think about a product or service.

given to customers Emotion detection

over the phone? FEELING PRETTY frustrated talking to an
agent? Well, the company could soon know
Tim Bishop, chief just how you’re feeling through an emotion
detection system. The technology tracks the
strategy officer for volume and pitch of your voice to create an
idea of how you feel — and can even warn the
technology giant agent if they’re about to get an ear-bashing!

Siemens, shares Visual IVR

his thoughts THIS COMBINES traditional voiced-based
services — you know, ‘say yes if your details

A desire for change

are correct’ — with a video application
allowing you to interact with a live video
stream on a mobile handset or any media
that can carry voice.

ANYONE FAMILIAR with Instant Messenger
will probably know how to set themselves as
understand that complexity is damaging the experience, and where their online, away, busy, lunching etc. Similar
What are the main challenges for call centres? software running in companies will allow
To really get a handle on what was challenging call centres, we commissioned brainpower is being directed toward internal systems and processes and not
people who aren’t actually in the contact
a research programme earlier this year, which reached more than 500 customer engagement. From a technology point of view, there are new
centre to show if they’re available for a call.
customer service agents from both public and private sectors. Three day-to- approaches to integrating systems that could provide call centre workers with So if your call needs some expert help, the
day challenges stood out — and they all have a technology component: one application. This hides the complexity of back-office systems and can be agent or IVR may connect you with someone
designed to exactly mirror the desired customer experience, allowing the outside the call centre but with exactly the
Challenge one: Agents actually spend relatively little time in focused agents to focus their energy on the customer. expertise to solve your problem.

My poor
communication with the caller, about 29 per cent of their available time. The
rest they spend entering data onto systems, reading information from Why do you think call centres have such a bad
screens, making notes and querying with colleagues. This is a real problem, reputation in the eyes of the UK public?
since the whole benefit of speaking to another person is to get that human-
to-human interaction.
Frankly, some of them deserve a bad reputation because, in an effort to drive
out cost and improve internal performance metrics, they have lost sight of the
basics: providing a positive, effective interaction between the caller and the
From a poll conducted by Siemens
Challenge two: Call centre staff have to wrestle with a complex and ever- agent. Equally, many very good call centres never hit the headlines because SHOCKING THINGS agents have heard from
changing IT environment. Half of the respondents had experienced a they achieve this goal of easy interaction. callers who thought they were on hold:
significant technology upgrade within the last six months, and yet are still The experience should be as unobtrusive as possible, with the caller barely ■ One in ten have been forced to listen to
having to manage an average of five different software applications whilst on registering that they are talking to a call centre. And that’s why the Top 50 someone using the bathroom
a call. Indeed, five per cent of agents are regularly dealing with over 15 ■ A quarter have overheard couples having
initiative is so important, because it brings excellent practice into the spotlight.
applications! Just managing the IT places a major demand on the agent — and an argument — and one agent heard one in
Given the ideal of being entirely unobtrusive — good practice really does need which the woman described her partner’s
so saps time and intellect away from engaging with the caller. Of all potential exposing. bedroom performance as “rubbish”
productivity improvement initiatives, agents voted for better IT systems as
■ One in 20 have been serenaded by
the number one choice, with a majority of 61 per cent. unsuspecting customers
The industry has changed a lot in 20 years: ■ One agent in the poll caught a fraudster
Challenge three: Worryingly, 46 per cent of the employees surveyed what does the future hold for call centres? who, thinking he was on hold to claim he
agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I believe there are obvious I see call centres penetrating much deeper into organisations. If, for instance was unemployed was overheard serving
changes that could be made to the IT systems and processes we currently use you are calling your local authority planning department and the expert who customers in the shop he was working in
in the contact centre that would improve the customer experience.” In many can answer your query is not in the call centre but in the planning office, why
shouldn’t you be able to talk to them anyway? The technology now exists to On a more serious note, though…
cases, it’s obvious to the agents what needs to be done, but somehow their
■ Almost half of agents have been sworn at
voice is not being heard. reach sources of expertise around an organisation wherever it is, and to make
and 35 per cent have been called stupid
more visible what level of service is being offered. I can see a future where the
■ Three quarters have overheard people
How do you think they can be solved? call centre and the organisation actually become one and the same. moaning about them or the company
Clearly, involving the agents themselves in designing their work experience and Tim Bishop is chief strategy officer at Siemens Enterprise Communications
■ Each agent has to put up with seven angry
the desired caller experience would be a huge and positive step. They 020 75264861, outbursts every single day