Northern Gas Network

Our bespoke training programme delivered a 10% increase across quality assurance scores and consistency in call handling.

The Requirement

Northern Gas Networks (NGN) delivers gas to 2.7 million homes and businesses in the North East, Northern Cumbria and much of Yorkshire. The company doesn’t generate gas, but transports it through a vast network of underground pipes. During periods of peak demand, NGN transports four times as much energy as the electricity networks. Engineers who are seen out and about are either carrying out emergency repairs or replacing old gas mains with modern new ones – the business is putting more than 3,800 kilometres of new pipes in the ground by 2021.

The company approached Ember Real Results because they had discovered a serious problem: inconsistency in the way the different teams at the Customer Contact Centre in Sunderland were working. Each team, and there were four in total, had a different way of handling calls. This had to change. There was more to it than that though, as Customer Contact Centre Manager Kevin Harris told us: “We had had a lot of changes in personnel. Some people had been there over thirty years and others just a few months. All our people needed a slick, efficient and professional skillset. We had about ten different ways of opening and wrapping up a call and we had to get everyone to understand what was expected of them.”

The Solution

So, with the lack of consistency evident, we designed a bespoke training programme for the 110 staff at Doxford Park to standardise and upskill telephone handling techniques, enhance customer service and raise the performance of contact centre staff. All team members were put into mixed groups of 10-15 people and trained in Telephone Communication Skills and Customer Care. The aim was to enable NGN staff to achieve 100% quality scores when communicating with customers by refreshing and refocusing their call handling skills.

Our first step was to meet NGN’s Customer Contact Centre Manager Kevin Harris and his team. We needed to find out what outcomes they wanted and understand how their business operates so we could create a tailored programme.

“I joined the business in June 2013 and we had four different departments working independently of each other, so it was important to bring them together as a cohesive Customer Contact Centre that would give customers a much more satisfying experience,” explained Kevin.

“We had had a lot of changes in personnel. Some people had been there over thirty years and others just a few months. So we wanted to put everyone through the same communication skills training to give us a baseline of high quality telephony skills and give all our people a slick, efficient and professional skillset.”

Kevin was especially impressed by our attentive approach. “They came and asked questions and got to understand our business drivers in terms of what our customers were looking for. Then they designed a truly bespoke programme. Too many businesses come with an out-of-the-box, take-it-or-leave-it solution, so this was a welcome and refreshing change.” An initial meeting with Carolyn established the scope of the training programme and a second meeting – involving Ann Lunn and Sandra Ellington, the training consultants who delivered the programme – made sure there was a good cultural fit.

The programme was divided into two one-day courses involving mixed groups of 10 to 15 people. The first day focused on call handling skills, including tonality, opening and closing calls, while the second day trained staff in effectively dealing with difficult customers.

Individuals were mentored in creating the best impression over the telephone, assessing their own listening and questioning skills and identifying ways to improve them, as well as using a structured approach to stay confident and in control when handling calls. The programme also addressed establishing rapport with callers and using best practice customer care language to create the best impression of NGN.

Our Solution

We started off by discussing how simply getting everyone to follow the same basic call techniques wasn’t enough. It was actually a fantastic opportunity to lift the overall skill levels of all the teams and to create new and better ways of working together. We created a bespoke training programme for the 110 staff. All team members were put into mixed groups of 10-15 people and trained in Telephone Communication Skills and Customer Care.

The main business benefit is the introduction of consistent telephony professionalism across the Customer Contact Centre. “At the start of this year quality assurance scores were not as high as we would have liked and just a month after the Ember Real Results Training programme we have already seen a 10 per cent increase across quality assurance scores,” said Kevin.

Although at the heart of it was of course the intention to provide more consistent and high quality customer service, there were particular objectives too:

  • Enable staff to achieve 100% quality scores when communicating with customers
  • Refresh and refocus call handling skills

The result

How the training played out

The programme was divided into two one-day courses involving mixed groups of 10 to 15 people.

  • The first day focused on call handling skills, including tonality, opening and closing calls
  • The second day trained staff in effectively dealing with difficult customers
  • Individuals were mentored in creating the best impression over the telephone, assessing their own listening and questioning skills and identifying ways to improve them
  • Work included a structured approach to staying confident and in control when handling calls
  • Another focus was establishing rapport with callers and using customer friendly and effective language to create the best impression
  • The management team completed the programme before it was rolled out to the team in order to help them lead by example

“In the training the emphasis was really on interactive learning techniques, such as listening to good calls and bad calls and analysing which types of approach worked and which didn’t,” commented Kevin. “The main challenge was overcoming lack of consistency. The programme was engaging and productive – and it was also a two-way process, with things we hadn’t thought of as a management team emerging from the activities.”

Customer Contact Centre Manager, Kevin Harris

"At the start of this year quality assurance scores were not as high as we would have liked and just a month after the Ember Real Results Training programme we have already seen a 10 per cent increase across quality assurance scores. There is a general feeling of positivity around the centre. Our people feel they are being trained and supported and that we’re investing in their future. Our team were very pleased with the training experience and they are confident and positive going forwards."

Meet The Specialist

Carolyn Blunt

Learning Solutions Director

After completing a degree in Management Sciences at Manchester University, and a post-graduate Diploma in People Management (CIPD), Carolyn worked in HR and L&D for both large and small employers before becoming an in-house Training Consultant at Fujitsu Services in the Service Desk division.
In 2003 Carolyn set up Real Results Training Consultancy and remained very much in the world of Service Desks, Contact Centres and Customer Services, working with clients such as United Utilities, Bupa, Serco and the Co-operative Insurance designing both front line and leadership programmes and huge culture change programmes.
In 2016 Real Results merged with Ember. We now work across all types of Customer Journeys and complement the projects delivered by the rest of the Ember.

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