Better service worth the cost

The City of Mississauga, Ont., has implemented an IP telephony system from Cisco Systems Inc. throughout the municipality’s 78 facilities, as well as Cisco’s IPCC product suite in its central call centre. The municipality has yet to obtain a 311 number, but all general inquiries are received by a single seven-digit number.

While upgrading Mississauga’s telecom system to VoIP was based on hard dollar returns, higher service levels proved a compelling driver in its own right to put VoIP into the call centre – even at a net new cost to the city, says Shawn Slack, director of customer service strategy.

Industry standards for service levels determine that 80 per cent of calls must be answered within 30 seconds, Slack says. But across Mississauga’s 19 business units, the average was only 58 per cent. “In some cases, the call wasn’t answered and the service level was voice mail.”

Installing VoIP means the city can bring all business units in line with increased service levels and extended business hours, says Slack.

“Better reporting capabilities can tell us whether we’re meeting those service levels, and complaints about dogs barking or illegal parking can be looked at geographically,” adds Jack Lawrence, director of IT.

Monthly reports can be useful to inform councillors on what the issues are in their wards, and also help city management understand what problems exist and how resources are being applied.

Mississauga was afforded easy conversion because it previously had laid its own fibre-optic network, explains Lawrence. As well, VoIP offered visible return on investment over four to five years over the city’s existing Centrex system.

“We have had sustainable savings of $700,000 to $750,000 per year since implementation five years ago,” says Lawrence.

Brantz Myers, a marketing executive for Cisco Canada, says an IP network can connect and reveal departments through a single point of contact, such as a 311 call centre.

“Citizens can then come in through the phone or via the Web and gain access to all the municipality’s services. In the case of an IP call centre, we can connect all these disparate departments together and, with skills-based routing, inbound calls can be directed to the appropriate person.”

Mississauga this year began a three-year process to consolidate call handling from 19 business units, or 150 phone numbers, onto a single number in preparation for going live with 311. “When we have that done, we’ll have 72 per cent of inbound calls coming into a consolidated call centre,” says Slack.

Currently the general inquiries number represents 140,000 calls per year, he adds. After consolidation, it’s expected the call centre will be handling 750,000 calls.

Slack also wants to get the unified messaging working within the call centre (currently it’s not compatible with Novell’s GroupWise platform) and he’d like to see full integration of Cisco’s IPCC queue management software with the city’s CRM system.

“CRM has the capability to manage the handoffs and triggers around escalation, service levels and reporting,” says Slack.

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