15 April 2020
No organisation could have fully prepared for the chaos of Covid-19, but a combination of strong leadership, a coherent plan and having the fundamentals in place, has helped the AA get through it. Tommie O’Malley, Director of IT Operations, tells the story of how the AA kept the lights on during this challenging period.
In the AA we always we always pride ourselves to be able to assist our customers when they are in need, so one of the first things we wanted to do when the scale of Covid-19 crisis became clear, was to help the public where we could. The AA is providing free roadside assistance to healthcare workers and elderly people, even if they’re not members. We have adapted our processes to ensure we can continue to service our customers and deliver our services in a new Covid Safe manner protecting both our customers and our own staff.
Behind the scenes, however, changes have been much more dramatic to ensure we maintain the highest levels of service across the two sides of our business: roadside rescue and insurance. Like a lot of companies, we have had our ideas about business continuity challenged by this crisis. In IT, we always imagine the biggest challenge would arise from an IT failure or physical disaster of some kind, but with coronavirus every system is working perfectly, office buildings are fine.
A pandemic is a totally unexpected problem. Access to our systems is the issue – our staff are denied access to our offices and even access to our business continuity site is not a solution. We discovered very quickly that the solution is about trying to isolate people, keeping them in a safe environment, and run our operations virtually, no longer relying on structures and buildings. The challenges are very different to anything we could had imagined and prepared for in our risk planning.
When lock down hit, our first week was spent trying to mobilise the business and get large numbers of people working from home and radically reduce the number of staff that need to use the office. Once that was complete we quickly needed to review how effective this new way of working was and what impact it had on our customers. It wasn’t easy and I’m not saying we have it completely cracked, but we are making good progress in this new working landscape.
Hybrid approach to people and places.
With three major buildings and around 500 employees, the AA opted for a hybrid approach to the problem to deliver our services. Firstly, we transferred all our back-office employees to working from home, which freed up a lot of office space and made social distancing possible – call centres agents that used to work on two floors are now distributed over five and where appropriate are now working from home. Our 150 patrols stayed on the road adopting new safety procedures to respect social distancing yet deliver a safe effective roadside service.
One of the next steps we took was to open up a separate five-seat contact centre in our Rescue Operational Centre (a separate building) to give us extra call centre capacity. This again allowed us to provide secure office space for our employees and maintain adequate social distancing to keep our staff safe and secure. We also reviewed our cleaning regime and ensured clean desk policy and meticulous cleaning of the offices were maintained daily.
Crucial to our success was having the fundamentals in place with our IT architecture. We always supported ‘some’ remote working previously but having the right contact centre platform and network design has enabled us to scale our capability, rapidly and securely. One of the game changers for us within the call centre was being able to switch the platform into telecommute mode, which lets us deflects calls to agent’s mobile phones from home and still maintain high quality voice even in remote locations.
I am pleased that decisions we made in the past have been helping us adapt to the crisis and enabled us to focus on delivering our services to existing customers. Three is our mobile provider and have been supportive all through this challenging period. When we were challenged to provide call recording to our remote mobile call centre agents, Three’s Mobile Call Recording feature allowed us to overcome this hurdle and provide the necessary call recording to make this solution effective for our business. Our breakdown customers are widely using our AA mobile App to log and track their breakdowns. The App allows customers to log their breakdown with pinpoint accuracy and then they can track the patrol assigned to them and wait for their arrival.
Managing the culture change.
Adapting our technology to meet the demands of the Covid Challenge has been significant, but there has also been a massive cultural challenge to overcome for our business. Our call centres and operations were not designed from the outset to be remote and it’s taken strong leadership – from both senior management and individual teams – to successfully make the switch.
We know that a lot of employees find working from home difficult, so conference calls have provided important face-to-face communication, encouraging people and helping with the transition. Ensuring our distributed teams are working effectively is now our next challenge and ensuring we are providing quality services to our customers. We need to ensure our remote teams are supported and have all the essential tools to deliver a quality service.
The crisis is fast forwarding us into new ways of thinking about home working, and forced us to rapidly deploy solutions to meet the needs of our customers and business. It is also teaching us a lot about the challenges and supports required for our distributed staff.
This hybrid office I believe will be the new norm for the AA and many other companies like us!
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