The week commencing Monday 7 October 2019 is National Customer Service Week. Recognised by the Institute of Customer Service, the week provides an opportunity to raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays. Here Belle Willacy and Anthony Shelmerdine, two of our Contact Centre Advisers, discuss their roles.
On the second floor at 3 Hardman Street, Manchester there is a noisy, lively area.
The frontline for all calls, queries and complaints that come into the GMC from doctors, stakeholders and members of the public – the contact centre.
- 50 customer service advisers work from 8am to 5.30pm weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays
- Before an adviser can even answer a call, they undergo six weeks of training
- The contact centre takes over 173,000 calls and 107,000 pieces of correspondence a year
That’s 3,327 calls and 2,058 pieces of correspondence each week … almost 900 a day
- There are five teams of advisers with a range of experience, each team has a senior adviser and a team manager
Below, Belle Willacy and Anthony Shelmerdine, Contact Centre Advisers, talk about their work:
Why do you think the contact centre is so important to the GMC?
The contact centre is a vital cog in the workings of the GMC. The sheer amount of advice, guidance, emails, payments, signposting and calls that we deal with, which then don’t have to be transferred to the rest of the organisation, means that the GMC can function efficiently.
We are the frontline in customer communication for the GMC and so we have a big responsibility to ensure that impression is positive. Getting off on the right foot means that a complaint doesn’t escalate and a positive first impression is created.
What is the general scope of your work?
We receive thousands of calls and emails and aim to deal with these straight away without the need for escalation. This means we need to understand all GMC departments and keep up-to-date with any procedural changes. There’s a lot to learn, standards are extremely high and the learning never ends.
The contact centre is an intense atmosphere that requires a sound knowledge of the GMC. Calls are varied – one minute it’s a distraught member of the public and the next you’re on a bad line to an Uzbek doctor who wants to come to work in the UK.
What’s it like being frontline for the GMC?
Being the first point of contact, we can take a lot of flak; a caller, for example, can’t speak directly to who they want to, so it’s their chance to express their frustration to us. We do direct ways in which a complaint can be made but offloading on to us is often the preferred method as writing an e-mail takes time.
Most doctors in the UK will correspond with the contact centre at some stage during their medical careers and it’s vital that our customer service is of top quality to support what we all know is a profession under a lot of pressure.
What are your favourite things? And the most difficult things in this job?
The days are very varied. Some calls are great, some calls are draining, but it’s never dull. Hearing genuine distress is the worst part for me. Real people with real problems, be they members of the public or doctors.
My colleagues are a massive bonus and we have great camaraderie across the team.
My favourite thing is when you end a call feeling you’ve really helped someone out of a stressful situation and you can really feel their relief and appreciation. The contact centre has a great atmosphere, its full of lovely people who provide an excellent customer service.
The worst part is harrowing stories from callers in a state of distress, they may have experienced a traumatic medical incident or may simply be very isolated and in need of someone to speak to. Certain stories stick with you.
What is the most important thing when dealing with GMC clients?
Sound advice is a must. You cannot advise with incorrect or suspect information. That does create pressure when talking about complex issues and the questions are coming thick and fast.
To be respectful and warm, but also clear and efficient! GMC Clients are usually busy people.
What is important in dealing with a customer in terms of speed of service and clarity?
You cannot sacrifice clarity for speed.
Our call handling is monitored in terms of quality and length of call. We have six calls and six emails monitored and scored every month. We are encouraged to take as long as necessary to ensure a satisfied caller who has been provided with clear and accurate information. Hopefully one call is all that is needed if the information provided bears clarity.
Speed of service is of high priority in the contact centre and we work to strict Service Level Agreements (SLA). Our department responds to emails within four working days – a shorter SLA than any other in the organisation.
The information we communicate is important and can often have quite a significant impact on the lives of our customers, as it will often pertain to their careers and livelihoods or health and wellbeing. Therefore, its vital that the messages we’re conveying are clear and are not open to misinterpretation, even when communicating with customers whose first language may not be English.
How do you create an authentic customer experience?
Trying to remain impartial yet empathetic is a tough skill to develop. We all have sympathy for someone distressed, but just saying, ‘I agree’ and ‘I totally understand’ can raise expectations in a call that may not be met. This is particularly true of calls about grievances, or relating to a doctor’s fitness to practise.
By behaving and reacting like a human being! Customers really appreciate a personal approach to service and it’s important to balance professionalism with a bit of personality, so that a strong rapport can be created.
It’s important to tailor your service to the individual needs of the customer so people don’t feel they’re simply being ‘fobbed off’ with a generic response. By empathising with the customer, you maintain authenticity.
What is key to handling a difficult call?
Taking control of the call is the key, there’s no point prolonging a call that isn’t within our remit. To close a call down in a professional manner is a fine art.
A strength of character is important. We’re here to help, guide and assist but we are not subservient or targets for abuse.
In my mind, the key aspect of handling difficult calls is that the caller feels heard, regardless of if you’re able to facilitate the outcome they want. Genuinely listening usually makes sure that you get off on the right foot with a difficult call.