Question

The issue
Blue Flag is the leading roadside assistance organisation in the country of Zembla. It helps motorists who have broken down on their journey. For example, they provide immediate help to motorists who have flat tyres, have run out of fuel or need minor repairs or maintenance. For major repairs they will take the car to its destination or to a garage where more extensive work can be done. Motorists who have broken down call Blue Flag’s call centre, who then arrange for a roadside assistant to get to the motorist as soon as practicable. Roadside assistants have vans located in various depots around Zembla. Each van carries standard equipment for dealing with minor roadside problems.
Recently, increased competition has put pressure on Blue Flag to reduce costs. They are planning a new call centre in Grindelwod – the current call centre is in the capital, Onhava, which has higher labour costs. They have commissioned your team of consultants to advise them on the operation of the new call centre.
The manager who will manage the new call centre explains what she sees as the main issues. “We know roughly when we’re going to get calls but we’ve never been good at planning the fine detail. So sometimes we’re really busy and just can’t answer all the calls quickly enough. On the other hand, there are quiet times when we might as well send half the staff home for the night for all the difference it will make. What we need is some way of predicting a bit better how many calls will come in each hour for about a month in advance. That way we have a chance of organising staff schedules that make sense.
“Right now nearly all staff are full-time and work on standard shifts. We sometimes employ staff temporarily, but mostly we deal with seasonal variation by relying on staff to take holidays in the quieter summer months. The move to Grindelwod gives us more opportunity to use more part-time and seasonal staff.
“At the moment staff work eight-hour shifts. We could use some shorter shifts, for example, two-hour and four-hour. But, by law, we have to give a 15-minute break every two hours. Usually that means half an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks for someone on an eight-hour shift. This complicates things a bit, but it probably makes sense too. One of the problems we’ve had less than other call centres is losing staff because the pressure of continuously answering calls gets too much. We can’t afford to lose staff too often because there is a cost in training them. Practically, I don’t think we could run any shifts of less than two hours.
“The kit we need is fairly minimal. Each operator needs a computer and headset – that’s about all. So we can afford quite a lot of overcapacity in equipment.”
The Head of Operations gives you some more details. “It’s not just about saving costs,” he says. “We also have to answer calls quickly – would you want to be stuck on hold for ten minutes on a mobile ’phone 25 kilometres outside Kronberg, not knowing if your battery was about to run out? We also need to investigate what’s the best way of allocating roadside assistants to motorists. At the moment we just send the nearest available assistant. But at busy times we often have several motorists needing help at the same time and I’m not sure that’s the best strategy. I’ll send you an example of the kind of information we have and maybe you can investigate. It lists the roadside assistants who were not attending a motorist. But if we could be better organised we could use the fact that we can estimate when a roadside assistant will finish a job and could reach the motorist faster. Generally, we try to get to a motorist within 90 minutes of receiving a call.”
The marketing manager offers you some information on the customers’ perspective. “We are basically the premium roadside assistance organisation in Zembla. We’ve a longer history and better reputation than our competitors and we need to keep that reputation because our membership costs a little bit more. The thing that customers complain about most is how long they wait on hold. I don’t think we even have records of that. Usually that’s even more important than how long it takes to get a roadside assistant to them. I don’t mean that the 90 minutes target isn’t important. Its just that often customers understand when we can’t meet it. Ultimately I’d still like to offer even shorter targets. There is a market for a premium service for people who need help and quickly, like vulnerable people. But also business people who might need to get to a meeting or a flight. If we could offer a premium service the operational costs are pretty low because they’re the people most likely to call us out for really easy jobs like changing a tyre or topping up the oil because there’s a warning light flashing.”

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