The first strategic shift review at British Gas in seven years supported a fundamental cultural change in the business based on three key principles: do what’s right, love simplicity, and be extraordinary together.
The transformation, led by the head of planning and head of HR, engaged operational teams on major changes to their working practices. 1,500patterns across 3,000 agents were reduced to just 15 full-time and 20 part-time working patterns. A holiday guarantee was introduced, 92% of people received one of their top pattern choices and teams now have more time together. Alignment of people to their teams for their core hours has risen from 30% to 87%. Overall schedule alignment is up from 11% to 63%, supporting a 60% improvement in time to answer for general enquiries and a £250,000 cost avoidance.
Below are the key initiatives the team undertook in order to achieve this phenomenal change…
Do what’s right, love simplicity and be extraordinary together
Realignment of schedules in the contact centre to key principles began in 2013, following a major shift review – the first since 2007. With over 1,500 patterns for around 3,000 people, simplicity was an essential requirement. Another fundamentally important principle became clear from the start; schedules needed to support the culture – ‘being extraordinary together’. Analysis showed that teams were not actually able to work as teams; they had varying start times, breaks and lunches were not aligned, training and team activities necessitated changes to shift patterns or overtime. A team leader might need to work 59 hours to be present with all the team! And, of course, effective schedules ensure ‘we are there when our customers need and want to talk to us’.
Significantly, alignment throughout the estate is now 63% of optimum pattern – a six-fold improvement! This has raised answering speed by 50% – 60% in areas such as HomeMove, ProHec and general enquiries. Service and efficiency need to go hand-in-hand and this is a great example of the planning team ‘doing what is right’.
Team alignment: working and learning together
Teamwork was one of the big wins from the shift alignment project. A big investment is made in learning and working together at British Gas: 2.5 hours every week in specific training or coaching for every person. As a result of the review, team alignment is up from 21% to 86%, with an effective team-based shift structure that includes breaks and lunches. This is enabling a significant change of culture, people relish being together and team leaders are present with their teams. Weekly sessions and meetings build the team ethos and people are continually learning on the job together. The Holiday Guarantee was another win for colleagues; ten days leave can be booked off per year without restrictions. Already 55% of annual leave – with 75% at some sites – has been booked via this guarantee. Crucially, with costs to recruit a new person reaching £2,000, attrition has been cut to 10-12%. “Successful businesses have successful teams” “More autonomy and responsibility” “Key messages land better” “Created culture across multiple sites”.
Governance: consultation, communication and choice
With 3,000 agents on multiple sites, this re-organisation was massive and required extensive consultation and communication. What’s more, new working patterns were radically simpler – just 15 full-time and 20 part-time patterns across all of the sites. There was exceptionally close consultation with trade unions, actively utilising their services to connect with staff and communicate with many individuals. 605 people were offered a circumstances-related shift via union consultation.
Across the business, real, honest conversations took place throughout this process. Fairness and consistency have been key goals – along with work-life balance, flexibility and choice. 92% of people received one of their six shift choices and 800 people with childcare, carer or education requirements had their requests met. It’s important to agents that their individual circumstances are understood and, if their needs cannot be met for any reason, that this is explained.
The consultation also involved changing part-time hours to 20 per week (many were working 14-15 hours) and significant numbers have moved to work full-time. Analysis showed that short working weeks were not cost effective, given the need for investment of 5-6 hours per week in training, coaching etc.
A continuing journey: understanding people’s needs
This is a journey of continuing learning and improvement. Reorganising everyone into more manageable schedule patterns was a massive undertaking and research beforehand by the planning team included benchmarking with organisations like Thames Water, Direct Line and First Direct, which gave some great lessons. One of the lessons out of the review process was the need for more effort to engage consistently with each of the sites. This has been addressed by the planning team so that they work together as one central team and simplified processes have been put in place.
This is further improving performance and business managers report that both call quality and service levels are more consistent. More recently, based on agent feedback, shift-swap bidding is being put in place, creating a process that is consistent across all sites.