IP Flushes Customer Service Troubles Down
BY STEVE MIHAYLO
When would a national corporation want to give the impression that it's
a small neighborhood business? When its success depends on it, as Roto-Rooter
Services Company's does.
Roto-Rooter -- with 540
franchises, 63 company-operated branches, and 64 contractor-operated
branches -- is the largest sewer repair and plumbing company in the U.S.
The entire network serves 90 percent of the country, with company operated
branches reporting revenues of $245 million last year. The name is
synonymous with excellent plumbing service. Ask anyone on the street to
sing the Roto-Rooter jingle, and they will easily recall the familiar
"away go troubles down the drain" tune.
A LOCAL FEEL
Yet, most people think of Roto-Rooter as a local company. Customers,
no matter where they are located, dial a local phone number, and they get
immediate or near-immediate response from a local plumber. In fact, one of
the roles of Roto-Rooter's customer service representatives (CSRs), who
staff regional call centers, is to maintain that
"in-the-neighborhood" feel when speaking with customers.
One of Roto-Rooter's busiest areas is made up of a call center in
Philadelphia that serves five regional branch offices: Two in
Philadelphia; and single offices in Wilmington, DE; Camden, NJ; and
Middlesex, NJ. Customers dial "local numbers" that ring into the
local office and are routed to the regional call center, which creates a
service request for the branch office to dispatch the plumbers (or service
technicians, as Roto-Rooter calls them). The branch office used to staff
five to six customer service representatives. The regional call center now
handles all calls for the five branches with better trained and more
"Telecommunications equipment carries our lifeblood," says
Robb Thomas, communications manager for Roto-Rooter. Thomas is responsible
for equipping each Roto-Rooter location with the necessary telephony and
data/voice networks. "When people are facing a plumbing emergency,
they need to be able to pick up the phone and reach us quickly."
In 1998, Roto-Rooter's Philadelphia region had a typical
telecommunications setup: Its telecom and data networks were separate.
Each branch office was equipped with an Inter-Tel
Axxent telephone system, while the regional call center had an Inter-Tel
AXXESS PBX system. All calls between the regional call center and the
branch offices were placed over long-distance lines.
This standard setup created a number of problems for Roto-Rooter as its
business in the area increased: Telecommunications costs were going up
because each call placed between the branch offices and the regional
center was a long-distance one. Likewise for all incoming calls from
customers that were picked up by the regional center. In addition, Roto-Rooter's
CSR turnover rate was double the national average. With the constant
stream of new CSRs, the staff was on a continuous learning curve and
productivity was an issue. The call close rate (calls resulting in
full-pay jobs) wasn't growing, which translated into unhappy Roto-Rooter
service technicians with time on their hands.
The cost of staffing turnover is high. Roto-Rooter loses between
$75,000 and $150,000 in revenue for every master plumber that leaves. And
in Roto-Rooter's Philadelphia area branches, turnover rate was expanding.
Thomas identified these problems and took them to Inter-Tel's Rob Curtis,
IP telephony product manager. Then they discussed what Thomas wanted to
implement: A new telecom solution that would make the call center and
branch offices more efficient, reduce Roto-Rooter's telecom costs and
staffing expenses, reduce the CSR and plumber turnover rates, and increase
the CSR call close rate -- but still allow Roto-Rooter to maintain its
customers' perception of a local presence.
CLEARING THE PIPES FOR IP
After custom designing a solution that Inter-Tel had never proposed to
a customer before, Roto-Rooter's regional call center and branch offices
each had a newly installed Inter-Tel InterPrise 3200N voice and data
router and AXXESS PBX. Inter-Tel's InterPrise products allow companies to
cost effectively route their voice, fax, and data communications across a
WAN. These gateways convert communications into data packets that travel
over the same networks as e-mail and Internet traffic -- allowing a
company to bypass traditional telephone lines and reduce communications
By replacing Roto-Rooter's existing data routers with the InterPrise
3200Ns, all calls between the branch offices and regional call center are
now converted to data, and a long-distance carrier is no longer required.
Plus, by integrating the Inter-Tel InterPrise 3200N with the AXXESS PBX,
the four AXXESS systems were transparently connected over the company's
data network to operate as one system. The regional call center and branch
offices are now only an extension away from each other, providing
employees with complete telecom transparency and allowing them to function
as if they were all in the same location.
The installations in all four locations took only four days, and Curtis
and Thomas spent approximately one month fine-tuning the system (they
initially experienced a slight problem with echo cancellation during
calls). The results were immediately measurable: Telecommunications
savings was estimated at $8,200 per month (or just under $100,000
for the year). CSR efficiency improved, allowing Roto-Rooter to reduce
redundant staff at the branch offices. The CSR call close rate doubled,
resulting in twice as many jobs for the service technicians. The turnover
rate among CSRs dropped as responsiveness to customers increased. The
AXXESS call center management reports package also allowed supervisors to
reward the most productive CSRs, motivating the entire staff and
increasing job satisfaction. But most important for Roto-Rooter was the
savings from service technician retention: Priceless.
Roto-Rooter now plans to install the InterPrise/AXXESS solution in nine
more of its busiest locations. Thomas also expects the company to
eventually move all of its locations over to IP telephony solutions.
"Our product is our service," he says. "We don't sell
anything that we manufacture; we sell knowledgeable guaranteed labor --
and we aren't making money if there's not a service technician in the
house. Our telecom solution has to be as reliable as our service
technicians -- or else our quality of customer service will
Steve Mihaylo is chairman and CEO of Inter-Tel, Inc. Inter-Tel is a
single point of contact, full service provider of digital business
telephone systems, call processing software, call accounting software,
Internet Protocol (IP) telephony software, computer telephone integration
applications, and long-distance calling services. For more information,
visit the company's Web site at www.inter-tel.com.me.
the August 2000 table of contents ]