Bernstein Group

Company: Nortel NetworksCustomer: Bernstein GroupSubmitted by: Fleishman Hillard UKEnsuring your after-sales care reflects the high quality of your products or services is vital in today’s marketplace. The Bernstein Group is using Nortel Networks’ Call Centre technology and its partnership with BT to support the company’s reputation for excellence.A state-of-the-art Nortel Networks Symposium Call Centre installed by BT is helping the Bernstein Group improve its after-sales service, increase efficiency and productivity, and dramatically reduce the average cost per minute for call centre enquiries.Based at two sites in Manchester, the Bernstein Group is the UK’s largest independent manufacturer of fitted kitchens and bedrooms. Producing some 50,000 cabinets a week, and offering a wide range of colours, designs and finishes, its products are supplied to multiple retailers, independent high street outlets, house builders and contractors, both in the UK and overseas. High profile developments fitted with Bernstein kitchens and bedrooms include 120 flats in London’s Canary Wharf.

Attention to detail is a top priority, particularly in product design, product quality, delivery, and of course, customer service. Open six days a week, 8a.m. to 7p.m.

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, Bernstein’s after-sales call centre employs over 100 agents to handle some 3,000 calls a day.The majority of calls are from customers and fitters enquiring about order details, delivery times, and fitting advice, but callers also include retailers, distributors and contractors. Paula Hodkinson, Customer Services Divisional Director at the Bernstein Group explains: “70% of our units are fitted by professionals, but 30% of our units are fitted by consumers, often with no previous experience of fitted furniture. They need a good professional back-up service to answer all their queries. The call centre is crucial to that.”The company’s previous call centre system had several limitations.

“When all the agents were busy, callers just heard a ringing tone and hung up, not realising they were held in a queue,” says Paula Hodkinson.”Also, there was no automatic routing. Supervisors manually routed the calls to the next available agent, taking it in turns to sit at a PC. This was a very unpopular task and wasted valuable resources. Plus, there was no wall board facility.

Keeping agents informed and motivated meant shouting across the room!”Sharon Parkinson, who is Project Manager for Customer Services at the Bernstein Group, continues: “In 1998, the decision to modernise the company’s telephone switches provided an ideal opportunity to consult BT and look for a completely new call centre solution.”Automatic skills-based routing was a fundamental requirement, to ensure that callers needing fitting advice, for example, are automatically routed to someone with the necessary skills.A comparative study of four alternative systems resulted in the selection of Symposium, with BT as prime contractor, on the basis of superior functionality. “The really unique advantage for us is Symposium’s full scripting capability for skills-based routing,” points out Paula Hodkinson. “It’s very flexible. And you don’t need to wait for someone with technical knowledge to customise the messages.

As soon as an issue arises, we can immediately set up a specialist team to handle it, and route the calls to them by altering the scripts ourselves.”With support from BT, Bernstein implemented the Symposium Call Centre in January 1999, running on a newly installed Nortel Networks Meridian Option 61 switch. The company also selected Nortel Networks products for other areas of its operation: a Meridian Option 11 to support the phone system in its second site; Meridian Mail, which welcomes callers with a greeting; and a unified messaging system which integrates voice mail, fax mail and e-mail.”Thanks to BT’s expertise, the installation of Symposium was extremely efficient and fast. It went live at 7pm on the Friday night, the scripts were tested, and by 11 p.

m. it was up and running,” comments Sharon Parkinson. “Compared with other call center implementations I’ve been involved with, Symposium was by far the easiest. There were no teething troubles. And once the system was live, there were no breaks in service.

A tribute both to BT and to the system itself,” adds Paula Hodkinson.The results are impressive. By routing the calls automatically and making them easy to prioritise, Symposium has increased productivity and efficiency. “We’ve seen a massive 25% reduction in call costs” explains Paula Hodkinson. At the same time, callers receive a far better service. They are put through to the right person, and hear regular messages and music when they are on hold.

Symposium has been extremely well received. “Our agents are very pleased with the new system, and it’s easy to learn. Initial training was done by BT, and only needed an hour for anyone with call centre experience,” says Paula Hodkinson. “Also, motivation is higher. Supervisors are very happy not to have to route each call: they only intervene when there’s a problem.

And the integrated electronic wall board keeps agents informed, displaying everything from the number of calls answered within our 15-second target, to employee of the month.””Symposium also offers a large amount of valuable management information,” comments Sharon Parkinson. The system collects data on every aspect of every call, and offers a wide range of standard reports, with customised reports created through the use of third party software.Full scalability and flexibility is allowing the Bernstein Group to bring additional business operations into the call centre. For example, the inclusion of Bernstein’s appliances after-sales team has allowed the company to exploit its extended warranty revenue opportunities, by following up its mail shot letters to appliance purchasers.

In addition, system maintenance is straightforward, as Sharon Parkinson confirms: “Symposium is very easy to configure and maintain. All the scripts are in plain English, and you don’t need much programming knowledge.”In the near future, Bernstein plans to implement Symposium’s graphical display facility. By creating a diagram of the call centre and agents, showing whether each is logged in, logged out or idle, this provides a useful management facility.Looking further ahead, Bernstein is working with BT and Nortel Networks Approved Business Partner, Checkmate, on the integration of Symposium within a data environment. Customers calling for delivery details will enter their order number and the system will interrogate the database.

Details will be provided automatically as a voice message, thus freeing agent time, and allowing extended access to delivery information, outside call centre hours.As Sharon Parkinson points out: “One of the reasons for choosing Symposium is that it gave us the option to develop Computer Telephony Integration – CTI. When we eventually introduce a PC environment for our call centre agents, Symposium will allow us to further exploit that.”Meanwhile, Symposium is supporting the Group’s reputation for excellence and helping to deliver competitive edge. As Paula Hodkinson concludes:”The partnership between BT and Nortel Networks has worked well for us. Our Symposium Call Centre allows us to provide a far better service and create a more professional image”