A new approach to workforce management has meant great results for UCAS and students.
A quick to install, and easy to maintain, hosted Teleopti solution helped UCAS preserve service levels and optmise staff costs whilst introducing new digital contact channels that students prefer.
The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) was created through the merger of the University and Polytechnic admission services in 1992. The University admission service UCCA was started in 1961 with the goal of making it easier for students to find the right educational institution and vice versa.
While UCAS is best known for its undergraduate application service, it also operates many other admissions services. These cover performing arts at conservatoires, postgraduate teacher training, postgraduate courses and education for 16-year olds.
UCAS is a non-government not-for-profit charity. Last year it helped around 700,000 students from over 10,000 schools and colleges find places at over 300 universities.
The main service team of 25 people are based in Cheltenham. They are supported year-round by 12 advisors who work at an outsource service provider. Peak times are the on-time application deadline in January, and again in August – the time known as ‘clearing’, when A-level results are released, and students who have not achieved the grades needed to get into their preferred universities, have to find other courses.
At peak times service staffing at UCAS can grow up to 45 FTE while resourcing at their outsource partner escalates to around 130.
With most applicants ranging from 16 – 25 years old, UCAS anticipated that students would prefer to get in contact via social media. Also, with several different groups geting in touch (i.e. universities, schools/colleges and students), as well as the many admissions services, there was a need to manage advisors’ skills.
We had a workforce management system that could do the basics, but realised we needed to be able to cover digital media as well,” says Paul Allen, UCAS Planning and Standards Manager. “That would’ve been impossible with our old system and could’ve meant a lot more planning time, poor service levels and increased resource costs.”
Talking about the growing need to support digital media Judith Spalding, Resource and Planning Analyst at UCAS, says: “17 – 18-year-olds have never known a time when there was no internet, digital communication channels are second nature to them and their preference.”
“Students are happier with social media channels, such as Facebook as well as Twitier, and we’ve been handling their enquiries through those channels for some time but without being able to accurately plan for them.”
UCAS required a solution that would handle digital media, as well as skills, easily — making sure they continued to optimise costs and hit service levels. Paul comments: “We’re a charity that delivers a public service and our charges have remained below the rate of inflation for 13 years.”
“At the same time, if you’re 18 and your world has just collapsed because you didn’t get the A-level grades you were hoping for, you need to be able to speak to someone especially during clearing which is our busiest time.”
UCAS also wanted to be able to plan and schedule resources for both email and webchat, which would be possible when an upgrade to their contact management system was complete.
Anticipating contact demand is complex for UCAS because, although the number of 18-year olds is known, the amount who will apply varies because of changes to student fees etc. Also, with 18 – 20% of applications from overseas students, factors like Brexit can have a significant impact. The propensity to contact can vary from year to year as well because students one year may have very different habits and needs to the next.
As a result, UCAS wanted a workforce management tool with forecasng that would work well with the demand estimation process they had developed and refined over many years.
Working times at UCAS are 8.30 – 18.00, Monday to Friday, and staff can work flexible hours. Preserving this flexibility was essential because it’s very important to the existing team. However, this complexity had to be dealt with by any new system without adding more resource management time.
Choosing a Solution and Partner
With the need for a new workforce management solution clear, UCAS began looking for a system with the features they required. And, a partner who would help them install and use it successfully — so they would gain the most return from their investment.
Talking about the reason why UCAS chose Teleopti Paul comments: “Although the features within resource planning systems from big workforce optimisation providers met our requirement, the cost was too high.”
“Teleopti specialises in workforce management, and their system provided all the functionality we needed at a cost we could afford. We simply pay for the maximum advisors we want the system to cover every quarter.”
Having decided what system to use, UCAS then began to look at who would give them the help they needed to implement and support it. “For some providers, workforce management is just another system they sell along with a contact routing platform which is where their experience lies.”
“To get the best out of a resource planning system we felt we needed to work with a company with good experience and understanding of everything — people, processes and technology.”
After interviewing several suppliers, Paul and his team chose QPC and the Hosted Teleopti system that reduces the time needed for implementation and simplifies support.
“QPC has over 20 years of experience with workforce management and has helped some of the biggest contact centres in the UK. When you’re dealing with something that can affect your costs and service so much, you want to work with someone you can trust,” says Paul.
Just eight weeks after the project started, UCAS was up and running with Teleopti — forecasting and providing schedules for their advisors.
“QPC took us through an intensive six-day training programme on how to use and set up the system for the way we work. By the end, we had a system that was loaded up with all our data and our first real schedules,” says Paul. “The fact that the system is hosted also meant the minimum of delay when it came to IT hardware and installation.” QPC’s six-day programme also provided in-depth training for all the system users, covering everything from forecasting to scheduling and business planning. In additin, the training also went through what was provided for advisors (so UCAS could train their staff), reporting and real-time adherence for team leaders and managers.
Resourcing multimedia contact was much simplified, and last year the system enabled UCAS to manage 417,000 calls, 100,000 plus Facebook enquiries and 40,000 Tweets to tight service levels with ease.
The response from advisors about the system has also been excellent as they are now able to see their schedules and manage their holidays (as well as shifts) onsite at desktop computers and even at home through their smartphones.
Talking about the overall success of the project Paul says: “It’s also given our advisors more information about, and control over, their work times which has made UCAS a better place to work”.
After an update to their contact routing platform, UCAS will be able to handle webchats which is also a preferred contact method for their many young applicants.
Teleopti will allow resources to be managed for this new media type with ease: “Our objective was to find a workforce management system that would give us the flexibility to handle whatever contact media our applicants prefer to use,” comments Paul. “Teleopti will make it simple for us to plan and schedule for webchat as well as anything else that comes along in future.”
Paul has also been able to request some changes to the system that will enable advisors to manage their holidays better: “Teleopti and QPC are happy to handle requests for changes that adapt the system to meet our needs. We’ve asked for a new feature that will enable holiday entitlement and days taken so far, to be included in what advisors see.”
Talking about the ongoing support and training UCAS receive Paul also says: “If we have a problem QPC always help us to resolve it quickly, and they’re very happy to provide extra training and advice on new things we can try that will help us to get more value out of the system.”