Challenge

NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) is the special health authority of the National Health Service. It provides a range of support services across the NHS and administers the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme. The EHIC, which provides UK holidaymakers reassurance that their healthcare costs are covered if they fall ill while travelling in Europe, is an extremely popular service.

The NHSBSA call centre deals with a number of different types of call, relating to the different services it provides. Each call type comes with its own unique challenges. While most companies have a set customer base about which much information is known, NHSBSA's customer base is the whole of the UK population. Therefore, it consistently has to forecast calls from potentially over 60 million people, making it difficult to allocate resources.

It was very important for us to be able to work closely with a supplier who would continue to monitor and make improvements to the system, even after deployment. We were delighted with the system from day one, and yet we have benefited from further refinements ever since – Brendan Brown, Head of Operational and Shared Services at NHSBSA

As EHIC cards need to be reviewed every five years, NHSBSA's contact centre was receiving a constantly high volume of calls from customers needing new cards - on average, 300,000 per month. In some months as many as 2 million calls are received. This presented a considerable challenge to service all inbound calls by using call centre agents alone. The contact centre was previously unable to deal effectively with such unpredictable spikes in call volume. The majority of calls being handled by agents were the more routine and straightforward application requests, so that agents had less time to respond to more complex and detailed customer calls.

After a consultation with NHSBSA, we determined that any successful solution would need the ability handle a high volume of calls, extend the hours for customer service beyond the contact centre’s opening hours, deliver significant cost savings, and facilitate a more agile and effective customer experience.

Solution

To tackle these challenges, we implemented a hosted cloud-based solution featuring natural speech recognition. A caller speaks to a ‘virtual agent’ and all the information required is collected through the caller simply speaking their details. As NHSBSA is now no longer reliant on traditional customer service agents for their services, the number of calls which can be taken has grown exponentially – the only restriction is bandwidth and infrastructure. As we also supply the infrastructure that underpins the solution for NHSBSA, they now have the flexibility to scale up or down services as required.

Before the voice automation service was implemented, call centre staff were predominantly dealing with EHIC calls rather than other services. Now, the new system has taken a large amount of routine calls away from the staff and freed them up to deal with more complex customer enquiries. They also have more time to spend on training and the building up of skills. At present, around 4,000 calls a day on average are answered and dealt with by the voice automation rather than by customer service agents.

KCOM was the only supplier to offer us a risk and reward model. They demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of the systems involved and made us confident that we were implementing the most cost effective system  – Brendan Brown, Head of Operational and Shared Services at NHSBSA

The cloud-based voice recognition solution is already delivering huge cost savings for NHSBSA. EHIC card requests and renewals are now automated through the voice recognition system, making a potential 70% saving if the transaction is fully completed. In the first three years since the system was implemented, NHSBSA made a saving of £700,000. And this figure continues to grow.

As a commercial model, NHSBSA wanted to work with a partner on a 'risk and reward' basis. We proposed an innovative model where every call handled successfully (i.e. which culminated in an EHIC card being sent to the caller) would be linked to a fee – and we are only paid for each successful transaction. This ensures that NHSBSA would never have to pay for unsuccessful transactions, reinforcing our confidence in the effectiveness of the system that we have deployed.

Results

Digitally transforming the inbound calls process for NHSBSA has helped to make applying for an EHIC more straightforward and has delivered significant savings for the authority. 

Our voice automation system enables a smoother customer experience with a reduction in waiting time for the caller. Callers can even renew EHIC cards on behalf of family members. The automated virtual agents were designed with human factors in mind, providing a reassuring experience for the customers, who have reacted very positively to the process.

We also integrated the voice automation system into NHSBSA's customer database so if the caller decides to abandon the automated process and speak to an agent during their call, their information is instantly available to the agent that picks up their query. This ensures callers don't have to repeat all of their details to an agent to complete a transaction. This all adds to an overall improved customer experience, making application for an EHIC card straightforward and painless.

We are confident that the system will continue to improve efficiency. This has come about through a genuine sense of mutual trust between KCOM and ourselves, and this has led to us considering new projects with them for the future - Brendan Brown, Head of Operational and Shared Services, NHSBSA