Shortly after the embers faded out, Elton Consulting – now part of WSP, partnered with Public Works Advisory and Laing O’Rourke to support impacted communities across the State with the enormous task of cleaning up what was left of their homes and businesses.
Tasked with connecting and communicating with communities in the aftermath as part of the Commonwealth and NSW Government funded clean-up initiative, the team banded together to ensure the program could hit the ground running without delay – setting up a purpose-built call centre in the space of five days.
Cameron Foord, Senior Project Manager and an Engagement Lead on the project, described the urgency in getting the centre up and running to support over 4,000 fire-affected properties across the State.
He says, “Once we received the green light, we wanted to mobilise as quickly as humanly possible. We wanted to get out there and start helping the impacted communities. We wanted to make a difference.
“It would normally take a month to set up something like this – there was so much to do. But when we were awarded the contract, we looked at each other and said, ‘let’s get this done in under one week’.
“And we did it.”
The call centre played a critical role in program delivery, acting as the frontline of project support for corporate and government stakeholders and, critically, the communities still coming to terms with the destruction.
Managing over 4,000 calls and 40,000 emails over ten months – including 600 incoming calls per week at the height of the response effort – the call centre became home to a team of six communications and engagement professionals.
Six tips (and one bonus one) to make your project call centre a success
We sat down with Cameron over a coffee and asked him to share his top tips for setting up a call centre (even if it’s only a one-person, part-time requirement). Here’s what Cameron had to say:
- Strategy is everything Before you get started, you need to have a clear understanding of your communications and engagement strategy. How does the call centre fit into this? What is its raison d’etre? Of course, you’ll make and take calls and emails but with who and when? What information do you need to obtain or provide and why do you need it? Is another channel more suitable? This should be articulated in your engagement strategy.
- Inside or outside First, decide if it’s better to outsource. These days there’s a range of easy to use, ultra-low-cost providers (put ‘outsource call centre’ in Google and see what comes up) and it may be cheaper, easier to go down this route. The catch here is that this solution typically suits only very basic engagement. On the bushfire program; complex stakeholder networks, a detailed project information set, compressed timelines, and caller emotions meant that comms and engagement professionals were better suited to achieve the necessary outcomes.
- Space and place If in-house is the best fit, you need to work out where to situate the call centre. The most important consideration will likely be noise. There’s nothing more distracting to other staff than constant phone ringing and conversations. If you think you can do it in any space: trust me, even a low volume of calls will be disruptive. Find an area where your call centre staff aren’t afraid to be noisy and can focus on the work.
- Information technology (IT) Closely related to my third tip, keep in mind when choosing a space that you’ll need to setup plentiful and reliable IT infrastructure – phones, computers, ethernet connections, WIFI, headsets, power cords, everything. Equally, you’ll need access to quality IT support – preferably someone co-located – to troubleshoot the myriad of IT issues you’ll need to work through.
- Scripts Before you go live, workshop the various scenarios in which you’ll interact with your stakeholders when they contact you or you contact them. Map out the steps involved in managing this interaction and then translate this into a script your staff can use to facilitate a streamlined conversation. But remember: the best planned script can’t account for everything.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System I don’t leave home without a good CRM (and as you can tell, I’m not anyone’s favorite person at work social events.) Professional quality engagement and communications requires the back-end functionality of a CRM – one click automated reporting, assign and track actions from contact to closure, trend analysis, stakeholder mapping, complaints management, data visualisation and analysis, the list goes on. The technology is there – don’t be tempted to use a spreadsheet.
- Caffeine (A bonus tip.) I think this one is obvious.
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