RRS, the largest sewer cleaning company in the Netherlands, is headquartered in Enschede, but the organization has a clear Rotterdam mentality.

People work hard in a hands-on manner, an the company solves its own problems. Nevertheless, some challenges require an expert. Here’s how an opinionated family business without a contact center has decided to innovate.

“To our team, every day is a fresh start. Early in the morning, we don’t know where our job will take us that day. Our goal is to complete all incoming assignments every day. Lead times are short: we discuss the job, perform our tasks, and send an invoice. More than 95% of requests for help are solved right away — we don’t work on long-term projects.”

Michel Schippers, managing director at RRS, explains fast lead times and the one-off nature of the job make it difficult to build loyalty. In fact, most customers don’t even realize they might ever have to deal with a clogged sewer. And if they do face this issue, they usually panic. “If the sewer is blocked, the situation is urgent. In those cases, our customers instantly need to be reassured that their problem will be solved. That’s what we want to excel at: taking care of the problem. Therefore, we specifically train our telephone operators to unburden our customers and show empathy time and again.”

RRS (Riool Reinigings Service, or sewer cleaning service) specializes in unclogging, cleaning, inspecting, and localizing sewers, drains, pipes, grease traps, and septic tanks. Established in 1972, RRS is a family business that is currently managed by the second generation. In addition to its Enschede head office, the company has ten other offices spread over the Netherlands. It employs more than 300 technicians who receive in-house training. The company is available and operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It carries out an average of 1,500 assignments per day. RRS is ISO 9001 and SCC certified.

No contact center

Despite the one-off nature of the company’s services, there are quite a few customers who contact RRS more than once regarding their request for help. “For each assignment, we are in touch with a customer three to four times before we get to work,” Schippers explains. “First, we register the problem. Then, they often ask whether everything is going according to schedule and if we’re already on our way.”

And even though RRS processes a few thousand calls per day, Schippers refrains from using the term ‘call center.’ “Of course, we use a contact center application [PureCloud from Genesys, ed.], but in my view, a call center aims to handle calls properly and fast. Our primary goal is to give the customer a sense of trust. We don’t want to rush through anything. It’s fine if a call takes ten minutes. Moreover, we are decentralized, while call centers are usually centralized.”

Opinionated

Therefore, Schippers refers to telephone operators and telephone exchanges rather than contact center agents and ACDs. “Our telephone operators perform administrative tasks and schedule appointments as well. At a call center, you gather a lot of people with the same job in one room, ensuring direct supervision. One of our main rules is that people should prioritize the phone.”

Schippers explains that in the distant past, RRS did attempt to literally centralize customer contact in a separate contact center department. There’s a reason why he repeatedly refers to RRS as an ‘opinionated’ company: the contact center project was reversed. It increased the distance between the company and the customer, and employees felt detached from their environment in terms of language, dialects, knowledge, and the region. “We want to be close to the customer, literally and figuratively.”

Moreover, Schippers is not yet fully convinced of the power of the self-service environment which has been set up to schedule appointments. “We receive less than 3 percent of appointment requests through the website. Tech experts believe ‘online reporting’ should work. We’ve noticed it’s mainly young people who use this option. But most people simply want to talk to someone.”

Queues are clearly getting too long

RRS likes to come up with its own solutions to problems and issues. The company’s main processes — planning and invoicing — are handled in VRIS (Vernieuwd Riool Informatie Systeem, or renewed sewer information system), an in-house developed ERP solution. RRS works with an external contact center that also uses this application. “When the weather is bad and there are heavy downpours, the number of calls doubles to 7,000 – 8,000 per day. If we can no longer manage our queue internally — to us, a waiting time of more than one minute is too long — calls are forwarded to a technical contact center. They can schedule assignments in VRIS, too.” But Schippers prefers RRS to handle as many calls as possible in-house.

Minimize overflow

To keep the overflow to a minimum — briefly put, to target availability — you need to have information about processes. “Employees were unable to properly assess whether they could take a break or if they should continue to work until it was less hectic. Also, they had to wait until the end of the day to find out which calls had been forwarded to the overflow. The information wasn’t provided in real time. That didn’t feel right. Employees wanted to know how processes were going, so they could adjust on the fly.”

First, RRS developed its own solution to put management information up on large monitor screens in all offices. It took the company several years. Initially, RRS used Samsung screens with a browser, combined with an intranet page that was published on the corresponding MagicInfo server. Realizing stable links to external information sources turned out to be difficult. RRS had purchased dozens of screens that had different firmware versions — with every upgrade, a few links failed. Employees were not impressed.

Airtraffic control for daily processes

“When Texas Digital came into the picture, we explained that we wanted to combine different kinds of information from several external sources on one screen. Examples include real-time data from our ERP system, such as technicians’ SLAs and their occupancy, information regarding telephone traffic from Genesys, and topical traffic and weather information. It’s a bit reminiscent of air traffic control showing whether the day’s schedule is under pressure, and if so, to what extent. It also helps telephone operators better schedule appointments. But we don’t want to bother technicians with this information. It will only make them nervous — they should be able to complete their schedules without being disturbed. We do, however, want to share information from our organization on the screens: Which employee(s) have we welcomed recently? Whose birthday is it today?”

What information do you need in terms of management?

“Of course, Texas Digital confronted us with the question of whether we needed everything we requested (which we’d asked them to do),” Schippers says. “After a comprehensive Post-it-note session, the wall was filled with yellow pieces of paper. Texas Digital’s project leader extensively discussed practical examples with us. Eventually, we kept about eight key figures out of 30 notes. If a screen displays too much information, it won’t take long for everyone to turn their backs on it. This session also revealed information about numbers we hadn’t thought of, such as the current state of the overflow. Briefly put, the information on the screen helps employees work towards a certain goal — which is, for example, to prevent the schedule from getting messed up.”

Implementation

“It’s pretty special that RRS decided to collaborate with Texas Digital. Until now, we have always managed everything ourselves, and we’ve often figured out and developed solutions in-house as well. With Texas Digital’s solution, the screens are controlled through a Microsoft Windows PC rather than a server. Our IT department was very critical of the solution and wanted to know in detail what would be added to our network. Screens are rolled out automatically, and the software is managed by Texas Digital. On top of that, Texas Digital has unburdened us by creating links to PureConnect and our ERP system, VRIS. When the implementation was nearly completed, we switched from on-premise to Genesys’ cloud solution, PureCloud, with our contact center application. Texas Digital set up this link, too. The benefit of this approach is that a solid product has become available faster, while we are in charge of what is displayed on the screens.”

Information includes sore points

“We mainly limit ourselves to real-time information. So, for example, we won’t look back on the past month. However, we did put up the screens in our canteens as well, so technicians who have a cup of coffee in the canteen during their shift learn that we’ve welcomed a new employee, received new cars, or concluded a nice contract. Nevertheless, the initial responses to the new screens were lukewarm: ‘What are we supposed to do with them?’ It’s understandable, as our employees had been looking at ineffective screens for two years.”

Now, employees see real-time information about KPIs, which aren’t always ‘green.’ “Any weaknesses in processes will become visible in the respective offices. At first, branch managers found that difficult and questioned the information. Now, we agree that the data displayed are an accurate representation of reality. One thing that’s become clear is that the phone isn’t always answered as quickly as possible. Another is that employees keep their status set to ‘unavailable’ for longer than they should. We have a better overview now: for example, some offices required extra employees, because they turned out to be too busy. We’ve noticed that less traffic is forwarded to the overflow now. The most important thing we’ve gained is that the entire team gets clear information about our performance. Employees have gotten used to it, and we will soon evaluate our use of the screens with them.”

“An exchange without any bells and whistles”

“Like I said, we are a bit opinionated at RRS. We just want a normal telephone exchange without any bells and whistles. For a long time, we believed wallboards or wall displays showing waiting times and service levels were a bunch of nonsense. Everyone should just pick up the phone! That is why we’ve never used wallboards. But with Texas Digital’s solution, we’ve embraced performance boards. They show us how things are currently going. This makes them much more useful than wall displays, which show you how you did after the fact.”

How about the future? RRS is a company with a no-nonsense mentality, but “that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to innovate,” Schippers says. “In the near future, people should also be able to schedule appointments using WhatsApp or Twitter. We will simply use the contact center platform and give it a try. If it doesn’t work, we’ll find out soon enough. We are the largest company in our field in the country, but we want to continue to grow — though not at the expense of the quality of our service.”

Author & Images: Erik Bouwer. Published: November 18, 2020 – Klantcontact.nl