Canada Post increasing customer service efforts

For some years, the image of Canada Post was, to say the least, unappealing.Poor customer service and trade union demands were fodder for criticism from consumers and recrimination by politicians.The economic trough seems to have quietened the unions. But what of...

For some years, the image of Canada Post was, to say the least, unappealing.

Poor customer service and trade union demands were fodder for criticism from consumers and recrimination by politicians.

The economic trough seems to have quietened the unions. But what of customer service?

That, too, seems to have undergone a transformation.

Witness, for instance, Canada Post’s new call centres set up in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Fredericton, n.b. last year to handle public enquiries about everything from rates, products and services to lost or damaged mail and parcels.

Gaston Bouchard, manager of call centre development for Canada Post, says the Crown corporation’s leaders decided last fall it was time for new equipment.

Bouchard says the 10 local call centre facilities the corporation had were not worth upgrading, adding there was no real enquiry management system in place and existing equipment was scattered.

He says new call centres promised economies of scale and would allow Canada Post to pull together its resources to deliver more efficient service.

Clearly, the new call centres have proven their worth over the last 10 months or so.

Bouchard estimates Canada Post’s customer service has been bettered fourfold because of them.

The cost of this improvement was a few million dollars, loose change for a multimillion-dollar corporation that delivers more than 10 billion messages and parcels a year.

Bouchard says he expects the corporation’s investment to increase when Canada Post gets the probable go-ahead for the installation of computer to terminal technology (ctt).

ctt is, essentially, database technology that automatically pulls an existing file from the mainframe computer and loads it onto an operator’s terminal once it gets a certain signal.

As it is, Bouchard says, anyone who has called Canada Post before with a problem gets an 11-digit reference number to use to identify his or her file to an operator who can then pull it up on a terminal.

He says local Canada Post offices resolve most problems.

If, for example, there is an enquiry about a lost parcel, the call centre operator takes down all the necessary information, which is, then, electronically transferred to the local level.

Bouchard says for anyone with a touchtone phone, an interactive service is available from the central call centre in Ottawa, but such service is limited to what the corporation calls ‘trace mail,’ such as registered letters.

‘When you call in [using the interactive service,] the automated system will welcome you and ask you for your access code and your item number, and will tell you if the item has been delivered or not,’ Bouchard says.

‘If the item has not been delivered, and you’ve been calling three different times for three different days for the trace mail items, then you will [get] a live operator and then somebody will take all the information down and conduct the enquiries,’ he says.

Bouchard says Canada Post looked at 23 possible scenarios for the call centres using a combination of five cities.

Their telecommunications resources, real estate and other facilities were examined as were time zone considerations and some Canada Post regional requirements before the corporation settled on Ottawa and the provincial capitals of New Brunswick and Manitoba.

‘We thought about only one site at one time, but it was too vulnerable,’ Bouchard says.

‘If it goes down, we lose everything,’ he says. ‘Two sites was kind of the same thing. Two sites is good, but if one goes, the second cannot really take everything back. So three sites was the kind of magic number.’

Once given the green light, Bouchard says it took about six months to get the centres ready for their June 1993 opening, although some bits and pieces were worked on until July that year.

He says the call centres work on what Canada Post calls a ‘virtual queue’ system.

‘People are in a pool,’ Bouchard says. ‘So, the first [caller] in gets the first operator [available,] regardless of where he is.’

He says there are no more busy signals for callers, and the present response time is 18 seconds, rather than the 60-second wait before the call centres were established.

He says the corporation’s centres are call-in operations. Callers can enquire about most aspects of what Canada Post offers.

As well as rates, products and some Priority Post business, Bouchard says the call centres have meant a 35% increase in Postal Code queries and ‘general information’ requests are up another 10% to 12%.

An average Monday means more than 30,000 calls logged for Postal Code and general information, he says, adding, the Monday before last Christmas, that figure flew upwards of 40,000 calls.

Bouchard says the call centres employ about 400 agents.

He says one of the reasons Ottawa and Fredericton were chosen was their pool of French speakers.

In Winnipeg, he agrees there is also a reservoir of French speakers in St. Boniface, a largely francophone suburb, although Bouchard points out most calls routed to the Winnipeg call centre are from anglophones.

However, and as befits a federal corporation in an officially bilingual country, Bouchard notes callers have the option of being served in English or French and can call one of two toll-free numbers to get service in the language of their choice.

As for the future, Bouchard says it is integration of more call centre services.

‘We want to integrate some of the systems that we have,’ he says. Now, when a customer calls Priority Courier and general information, we may have two different files in two different databases.

‘We want to [change] that [so] when a customer calls we have all of his history so we know how [much Priority Courier service] he buys, how many security registered letters, how many complaints he had, how many times he wrote to our president.

‘We want to have a complete profile, especially for our commercial players.’

And for anyone contemplating setting up a call centre, Bouchard’s advice is simple.

‘My advice would be plan, plan, plan, well in advance,’ he says. ‘And test and test and test, a lot.’