In episode 2 of this innovative new series, Martyn Riddle chats with Shane Hackett, Manager Customer Services at Brisbane City Council, Australia's largest council. During the chat, Shane explains the preemptive steps that the council took as the threat of the Covid19 situation grew larger. And he also provides an insight into what has been keeping him entertained during the lockdown situation.
Martyn Riddle Hello and welcome to In Conversation with a series of podcast driven featuring chats and discussions with leading figures from the contact centre, CX and customer engagement industry in the Asia-Pacific region. During this series, we want to find out what customer service organizations are doing during these challenging times and to try and discover what it is that drives the leaders in this space and what makes them tick. My name is Martyn Riddle, and as well as being your host for the series, I'm also Verint's Vice President of Marketing for the region. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by Shane Hackett, Manager Customer services at Brisbane City Council, which also just happens to be my home Council. Shane, welcome.
Shane Hackett Hi Martyn. Thanks for having me.
Martyn Riddle It's a pleasure, sir. Can we start with a background on the customer services operation at Brisbane City Council? How many customer service staff do you have? What are the sort of calls that you handle and what is a typical volume of transactions?
Shane Hackett Sure. The Brisbane City Council call centre runs 24 hours, seven days a week. We haven't actually closed since 1996 for even one minute. We serve the whole of Brisbane City, which is about 1.4 million residents and ratepayers. And we do that with 221 employees in the contact centre. There's approximately 180 agents and then 10 leaders, quality support staff. We're across five different sites. Two of those are actually call centre sites, but all five have a front counter so face to face operation. Of our 1.5 million contacts, we have about 735,000 phone calls per year. We use the Engagement Manager Professional product from Verint, we call it Optimise, to manage our knowledge and our workforce management. We have, at last count,4,431 knowledge articles. Brisbane City Council has a very wide range of services ranging from immunisation of babies when are first 1 year old children and right all the way to cemeteries and cremation. So really cradle-to-grave - our top inquiry types, as you would expect from a local government, you know, your roads, rates and rubbish parks, potholes, that kind of stuff.
Martyn Riddle A very comprehensive range of services.
Shane Hackett Yeah, for sure. It's something that actually keeps the job interesting and our agents have no IVR. So every time they pick up a phone call, answer an email or respond to a social media post or have a person coming to the counter. It could be on one of those four thousand four hundred and thirty one inquiry types, knowledge articles. So it really keeps it fresh. And we couldn't do it the way we do it and provide the level of service we do without the knowledge management system from Verint.
Martyn Riddle It's very kind of you to say. And it's also true what they say, that never a dull moment in Brisbane! At the moment, the entire customer service is finding itself in a very unusual place due to the Covid19 crisis. When did Business City Council become aware that the situation was going to have an impact on the services that you deliver?
Shane Hackett It really kicked in for us when the World Health organisation declared the pandemic on the 13th of March. Martyn, that's when we really realised that we were gonna have to make some big changes.
Martyn Riddle And what was the council's response to the emergence of the situation? What was the process you guys went through to change the way you deliver their services?
Shane Hackett So basically my job and our contact centre's job was to support the way that the rest of the council had to transition its services. So within about a week and a half, two weeks, we closed 33 libraries, we closed swimming pools, we modified our crematorium services and cemeteries. And we cancelled a whole lot of, you know, active and healthy events in parks, yoga classes, all that kind of stuff. So the contact centre was crucial in supporting the rest of council and its operations by having consistent, timely information to customers as they called in. The biggest change for us was moving to work from home. So within about two weeks, we moved almost everybody to work from home. The biggest challenges there were technology - getting the technology set up in people's homes. We had already been doing a pilot for two years. So probably just over two years ago we thought we would do a work from home, a full time work from home pilot for two reasons. One was the drivers back then were flexibility for staff, but also business continuity. Having people working from home and spread out across the city really reduced our dependency on or our single point sensitivity on buildings and sites where power could be knocked out or there could be flooding or they could be a lake in the roof or there could be a fire. Having our people spread across the city was in their homes was something we were very interested in, particularly Brisbane's propensity for storms and bad weather during the summer storm season. So we transitioned our people to work from home based on our knowledge from that pilot of 15 people work from home for two years, and something that was really, really good was the role that those 15 people who had two years worth of working from home experience played as, I guess, leaders and supporters and amongst their colleagues. So they really wanted to do that. They really put their hands up and they said, we want to help the rest of our colleagues to adjust and adapt to work from home. So that collegiate approach was really warming to see. The other challenge, apart from technology, was just the physical set up from home, just the workstations and making sure it all happened in a zero harm way. So making sure everyone had ergonomic chairs, office chairs and that they were all set up in a way that they actually then weren't going to be harmed with all the best intentions in working from home. They are probably the two biggest challenges, some small, more particular challenges we had is that we have our four, five front counters where people come in and pay rates and register dogs and do business face to face. And particularly a lot of our elderly customers like to work and interact with us that way and with particularly elderly customers, as you know, being in a high risk category. That was a real challenge for us. We decided to close three of the five front counters and just keep two open for more essential business. And they are still open. They've remained open the whole time through this with obviously lots of social distancing and hygiene measures in place. The last thing we had to adapt to is our lost property service. So we manage actually the lost property for council. So returning of umbrellas and while it's in school, bags and hats and so on, left on buses and in bus stops and in council facilities. So we just adapted there to just return essential items only.
Martyn Riddle So a lot of change with a normal standard operating working practise. You mentioned earlier on different sorts of calls coming through because of the situation. How did you find the overall volume of calls? Was there much difference there?
Shane Hackett Overall contacts, so across all channels, contacts increased by 2.5 percent during March and into April. So we actually had an increase in contacts. The phone channel was pretty well steady. It didn't change too much at all. So where we were dropping off calls from, you know, maybe as businesses close, it doesn't call us about their business anymore,.that was being replaced by Covid related, Covid19 related contacts, phone calls. And that pretty much levelled that out. But the 2.5 percent increase was driven by social media. So we went from where usually we'd be in about 6000 social media posts that we would respond to, that we would action actual inquiries rather than just comments in a month that went to over 10000. So close to doubling of social media related the use of social media channel.
Martyn Riddle I'm actually, as a resident of Brisbane genuinely surprised it is only 2.5 percent. I would have imagined you had a lot more general public ringing in asking for social distancing guidelines and that sort of query. Did you find those kind of queries did come and some of you more regular types of inquiry dropped off?
Shane Hackett No, we didn't really get that many of those type inquiries because that information really is driven out of the state and federal governments. So our inquiring types were more like, can I still go to the tip and or the waste transfer station and drop off my rubbish. If the pools still open, that was more around our services; social distancing, what I can and can't do. Can I go? Can I go out in public? That was more state and federal government.
Martyn Riddle Okay. It's interesting to note and interesting to learn. You said you felt somewhat advantageous to you have had a segment of your team working in a remote fashion for a fair while and they were able to act as mentors or as leaders in the wider transition. Were there any additional innovations that you felt were really useful during this transition time? Any particular activities or processes that you invoked to try and streamline or make this whole process a lot smoother?
Shane Hackett Yeah. I think the key part was and this is what we had learned already from all our trial, a pilot with just the importance of connectedness and physical and mental health. So we already had things in place for the pilot group for keeping socially connected with their colleagues, for doing stretching, for doing a lot of fun and interactive ways to keep in touch with your colleagues and your team leader while you're working from home. We just rolled them out more broadly to the contact centre, to the rest of the contact centre. And also the staff have come up with their own things, their own ways to do it, dance off challenges and all sorts of stuff like, well, anyone who works in the contact centre environment knows how important the fun is and keeping a fun atmosphere. So we really just encourage that and encouraged it even more. I put a greater emphasis on it with people working from home to make up for that done lack of physical contact, physical interaction.
Martyn Riddle Is there any footage of you yourself in a dance off? Do we get to see some of that at some stage?
Shane Hackett I've been challenged, so I've already been involved in silly hat day and lots of other stuff. But the dance off is probably coming all the time.
Martyn Riddle I look forward to seeing that. And how in general do you think the staff are reacting to this situation? Obviously, the staff themselves have got their own domestic pressures brought around by the crisis, and yet through that they've obviously got to deliver the service to the citizens and the customers. How do you think they're handling it?
Shane Hackett Yeah, they've adapted really well, but there's been, .I guess Martyn for me the lesson has been everyone is an individual. Everyone has their own story and their own circumstances. And you really just need to work with them. One size doesn't fit all or when it comes to change, particularly such a rapid change as this. So just as an example, one of those particular circumstances would be an employee who worked and lived in a unit potentially in a sharehouse type environment and worked through the night so theyre on the night shift. So they're in a smallish unit or townhouse, talking to customers all night through the night, the impact of that on their flatmates, their roommates or the rest or even family keeping them awake. That was the kind of thing that we had to work through with individuals and obviously particular challenges with supporting parents, with home schooling. And, you know, you can't work and look after a child effectively. Particularly children under twelve. But particularly when you're on a call in a call centre environment, you can't just you're totally focussed. You know? You can't just duck away. You really need to be focussed on your job. So we had a special HR support for individuals and team leaders, in particular, supporting the team leaders to work through those individual circumstances.
Martyn Riddle I'm interested in that focus on the individual and keen to understand what impact it had on you personally as a leader and as an individual. Any lessons you've learned along the way and perhaps some things about yourself that you found out that you werent aware of before.
Shane Hackett One thing that I've learned is the importance of stakeholder relationships and an informal contact in maintaining those relationships. So in an office environment, you know, you go out to make a coffee at morning tea time and you bump into a colleague or another agent doing the same. And you talk about the football on the weekend or the family holiday that was coming up. You don't really get that informal interaction. It's much, much more formal when you work from home. So needing to really make sure you don't forget about reaching out to people and maintaining those relationships, which are the cornerstone of good business outcomes, being more deliberate about it. I guess that's something that I've really, really tried to do. Yeah. Then also, the other thing I guess was, um, I've been more productive without the travel. So without having to move between meetings, without having to physically travel. I've just got more time to actually get the job done.
Martyn Riddle And with the restrictions lifting slowly is they're going to be lifted or eased back. Do you think you're going to revert back to some of the old ways, or is this really been a catalyst for a whole change of business approach?
Shane Hackett I don't think we'll we'll go back to the way we were working. And I think you'll probably find most businesses would say something similar. Some who have transition to a work from home. I know that in our staff surveys the willingness and comfort to work from home has has gone through the roof. There was much more apprehension. People adapt and they're really adaptive and they adapt really quickly. Well, we haven't been through the process. We just starting now to look at recovery planning and really how our workforce might look and what we want and how we might operate in the future but there's been so many positives that we want to capitalise on, particularly flexibility for employees - like employees wanting more and more flexibility in their job as time goes by and we can capitalise on some of these learnings to really provide more opportunities than we could in the past. A trial that might take us a year or two years actually happened in the week and a half. So we're going to really look to capitalise on that.
Martyn Riddle It's interesting how these things can change preset thoughts and perception's we had around what we do as a business. If we can let's maybe get back to a bit more about Shane as a person and as an individual. And let's imagine for just a moment that this lockdown situation is going to last forever. And please let that not be the case. But if that was that one piece of music that you're going to listen to or would like to listen to, that keeps you going. That is your your go to tune.
Shane Hackett One of my one of my favourite song songs that I actually play through my headphones when I'm going in to do a presentation or when I'm going into a fairly serious meeting where particularly when I'm going to be the main, main person is Nobody's Fault But Mine by Led Zeppelin. I really like that song. And I really like the message that that it says to me, too, you know, this is this is your time. Take responsibility. And it's all about ownership. Owning your own future and what's in your own control. So, yes, that's the one that I that I listen to and have had done more so since Covid.
Martyn Riddle I like that. And who doesn't like a bit of Led Zep to keep them going?
Shane Hackett Exactly. Exactly.
Martyn Riddle How about a book or a film? Is there one title that is your go to for entertainment?
Shane Hackett I've just been watching more, more so than films, a bit more Netflix. Like who, who hasn't? So I like stuff that just takes me away. Is a bit fantastic, but not too fantastic that you don't have to really ply too much. thought to. The series that I've watched that I've enjoyed lately is the Ozarks. It's a story about an American family that moved from the big city to to a small town. And then there's the adaption and adjustment there. And then also, I like, um, I like to watch the Marvel movie Thor and and those kind of ones. So, you know, to see that escapism, I suppose Martyn.
Martyn Riddle Yeah, I have to admit this before on two fronts. First of all, perhaps some might say embarrassingly, I've actually never seen a superhero movie. And perhaps even worse, I'm not a Netflix subscriber. I am a unique individual as it has been mentioned before.
Shane Hackett Got a whole opportunity in front of so much time.
Martyn Riddle So much time to watch. Finally, how about a material object or a gadget that you're going to keep with you in eternal lockdown or something that you just couldn't be without?
Shane Hackett For me, my escape, my hobby is in boating and fishing. And so I have a fishing boat up in the shed. And so that's really a great place for me to go. And they always need maintenance. Martyn, I don't know if, you know, you've had a boat stands for Bring Out Another Thousand. So there's always something to do. There's always some tinkering with always something, something to keep me occupied with my boating and fishing gear. So I'm fortunately in Queensland, we've been able to continue if we need to go fishing, to go fishing for food. And so I have been able to get some go and gather some food to my family during the crisis. So that's really given me that time. You know, it's something to look forward to that light at the end of the week that has really helped with my work life balance and then keeping me going through this.
Martyn Riddle And the Hackett family having fish for tea every night. I like that, that sounds good. But the boat acronym also resonates somewhat as a gentleman who just sold a yacht, an old, old, old yacht a couple of weeks back. The phrase that the happiest days of your life is the day you bought the boat and the day. you sell it, that rings true.
Shane Hackett There you go.
Martyn Riddle Shane Hackett, manager of customer services at Brisbane City Council, it has been great chatting with you today. Thank you so much for your time. I wish you, your family, your colleagues, and, of course, all the citizens of the great city of Brisbane, all the very best. And please stay safe.
Shane Hackett Thank you Martyn, its been a pleasure.
Martyn Riddle Thank you.