Hillary's Blinds

At Hillarys Blinds, the end-to-end customer experience has always been a priority. The retailer uses a direct-to-consumer approach with a nationwide network of 1,000 field-based advisors who undertake design consultations in customer homes before returning to install blinds, curtains and shutters. This is a highly successful model: the company currently sells and fits more than 30,000 made-to-measure blinds a week.

In such a business model, the contact centre is clearly pivotal. Staffed by 150 full-time employees across sales and service, the Hillarys contact centre manages both inbound and outbound traffic, following up quotes and resolving queries. It also supports field advisors when they’re with customers by answering enquiries.

But as the multichannel era continues to see customer behaviour evolve, today Hillarys sees a 50/50 split in initial contact coming through the web and the contact centre. Hillarys offers customers a choice of online interaction – they can book appointments for an in-home consultation, or can buy online and measure and fit the blinds themselves. This presented a challenge to Hillarys.

In 2011 the Symposium system underpinning the contact centre reached end of support. With customers looking to contact the business via a range of channels, Hillarys wanted a solution that was better able to integrate and manage multimedia contact. After a comprehensive tender process, Hillarys selected the Avaya Aura Contact Center, running on the Avaya Communication Server 1000, implemented by Maintel. 

“Maintel gave us the confidence that they could handle our fundamental requirements smoothly, and their knowledge of the Avaya portfolio is clear. “

Julian Bond, Head of ICT

Taking a strategic leap

Julian explains: “In our invitation to tender we were crystal clear about our requirements and pain points. When we looked at the options available, we felt that Avaya understood the contact centre environment better than its competitors. Their offering builds on the best of its legacy products, adds new capabilities and a clear roadmap.”

Key capabilities included support for UC, presence and web services integration. The fact that the Avaya solution offered a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) toolkit was a major benefit for Julian. “It means we can do more with web services in-house as our needs change. We can configure the extra features we want, and integrate with different applications, without needing to pay for expensive development.”

The choice of partner was also critical:

“We wanted someone innovative and nimble, and of an appropriate organisational size that meant we mattered to them.

With Maintel we got exactly that: they gave us the confidence that they could handle our fundamental requirements smoothly, and their knowledge of the Avaya portfolio was clear.

They gave us relevant advice on how we could best use different Avaya solutions to meet our requirements. They’ve been excellent.” 

“When we run TV adverts, it’s hard to predict the volume of calls they’ll generate. With the Avaya Aura Contact Center, we can easily add remote agents if we need to, so that we can manage volume in the short term.”

– Julian Bond, Head of ICT 

Delivering better support for advisors

Enhancing the customer experience

Those requirements included a number of features to enhance the customer experience from the moment the contact centre agent answers a call. For example, Hillarys runs a broad range of marketing campaigns, each of which has a different contact number to facilitate reporting and campaign analysis. With the previous solution agents literally had to move desks to be in the right place to answer incoming calls on different numbers; with Avaya Aura Contact Center agents stay where they are, with the relevant campaign information is visible on their computer screen.

The new solution also integrates with the CRM database using the SOA Toolkit. That means, among other things, that customers calling to enquire about an open service ticket can be routed through, wherever possible, to the agent they previously spoke to – improving their experience. At the same time, resources are better used in the contact centre, with reduced call transfer. 

Delivering better support for advisors

For Julian, some of the most important enhancements are around the service provided to advisors. “Our field sales advisors are customers too, and we knew that the old solution sometimes didn’t help them. In particular, they were fed up with the level of ‘telephone tag’; they’d log a query, the centre would call them back but because they were with a customer, their phone was off.

That’s why we want to use presence: so that our agents can see when advisors are available on the phone, and so advisors can see when they might be able to get through to an expert on a particular issue – which in turn can help them answer a customer query on the spot.”

However, this created a challenge. Advisors in the field are not technically on the Hillarys Blinds network, so the solution needs to deliver federated presence – more complex technically, and potentially far more expensive. “Maintel is helping us establish the best way to do that using the Avaya UC portfolio. They understand licensing issues and are working out how we can get the functionality we want affordably.” 

Smooth implementation, immediate results

Of course, all of these features depended on the successful implementation of the core telephony platform and contact centre solution.

“Last time we upgraded our system, it was a complex experience,” Julian says. “We had some issues, which I think is inevitable, but they were well managed by Maintel so that there was minimal business impact. At our project review one of my colleagues, who has 40 years’ experience in the industry, commented that throughout the process he was comfortable he knew exactly what was happening – and that was the key.”

The Hillarys team enjoyed immediate improvements in tasks like reporting and real-time contact centre analytics, which are now simpler to perform and provide more accurate and actionable management information. Because complex scripts are now represented diagrammatically rather than in pages of code, it’s much easier for business managers to make changes.

“We’re also more flexible now. When we run TV adverts, it’s hard to predict the volume of calls they’ll generate. With the Avaya Aura Contact Center we can easily add remote agents if we need to, so that we can manage volume in the short term,” Julia adds.

Invaluably, these additional features have been delivered with- out changing the agent toolset: the contact centre team are using the same handsets and computers as before. This was a delib- erate choice from Hillarys, as it meant there was no time wasted as agents familiarised themselves with the new equipment. In- stead, the Avaya solution allows the business to upgrade to newer tools in the future, when there is a pressing case to do so.

A platform for the future

With the new platform in place and providing the rich core contact centre functionality that Hillarys urgently needed, the next steps will see further enhancements to the customer experience. “We’re looking to integrate the advisor tools more closely with the SAP-based mobile app we’ve developed, and increase our multimedia capability, adding click to chat.” Other areas under consideration are social media and SIP trunking.

“For me, the great thing is that we’ve got a platform for the future that we can rely on, and a partner we trust. The Avaya roadmap is clear, and the individual components genuinely work together. That gives us the confidence to start pushing things further and faster. I don’t want a bespoke solution: I want something that’s quick, effective and painless. With Avaya and Maintel, we’re getting that.”