Channel Partners

February 12, 2008

6 Min Read
Case Study: Psytechnics Helps Friends Provident With Voice Performance Management

The client in this case study is Friends Provident, the FTSE 100 life and pensions company.


In the financial services industry, quality of customer service can be more important to revenue growth than product performance. In a competitive market, the quality of customer-facing staff is critical in fostering customer loyalty, and ultimately in driving revenue growth. Factors such as the time it takes to answer a call, whether the caller is put through to the most appropriate agent and how easy it is to navigate an automated system become really important. A poor impression can mean lost customers, unfavorable reputation and ultimately a decline in revenue as consumers take their business elsewhere.

IP telephony, or VoIP, has become more commonplace in large companies and call centers, replacing regular fixed-line desk phones. This is primarily because of cost; if a company already has a network for data such as e-mail traffic it makes sense to use the same network for telephone calls too. A recent Psytechnics survey, commissioned by Vanson Bourne, questioned more than 100 IT managers in large U.K. companies. The results showed that four in five financial institutions that responded to the survey already use IP telephony (IPT) in some capacity, either across the company, or in call centers to interact with customers.

One such company is Friends Provident. The company knew that an IPT infrastructure was necessary to deliver a superior level of customer service, slash telephone costs and connect its regional U.K. offices. Friends Provident takes customer service seriously. Customers predominantly interact with the company via telephone; a good quality phone call is one of the most important assets in delivering excellent customer experience, time after time. Kev Sharratt, principal service analyst at Friends Provident, explains how Friends Provident worked to roll out IP telephones throughout the company and more importantly how it became invaluable to understand a customers experience of a phone call.

Were a forward-thinking company and want to ensure that we offer customers and colleagues the best possible telephone service. In 2004, we began to look at alternatives to the incumbent phone system being used in regional Friends Provident IFA (independent financial advisor) support offices. The existing system was incredibly expensive to run; even moving an employees extension number to a different phone cost upwards of £10 [$19]. We initially rolled out an IPT system in our Croydon office, quickly expanding the system to all our other regional offices across the United Kingdom as an alternative to an expensive and outdated phone system, says Sharratt.

Shortly after, in 2005, Friends Provident became committed to revolutionizing its customer service program to deliver enhanced and unprecedented customer experience. This became known as the Friends Provident six-star customer service program. We already had an IP telephony system part deployed and it made sense to expand this solution company-wide, to remaining branches and our four head offices. We could then offer our customers cutting-edge service via a flexible, next-generation phone system, Sharratt explains.

During the initial stages of the IP telephony rollout, the IT team became committed to delivering on the Friends Provident six-star customer service program. The company-wide initiative made the team think about how they could monitor the IP telephony network better and in a more proactive way. This simple idea became integral to the success of the IPT system, by introducing a solution that could actually monitor individual phone calls for quality.

When the IPT system was only part deployed, we became very aware of the difference between quality of experience (QoE) and quality of service (QoS), Sharratt continues. A small proportion of our call center staff were not satisfied with the call quality when using the IP telephony service, due to a number of factors including varying volume levels, or an echo or hiss on the line. We instinctively knew that if we wanted to offer the best possible service, we needed to manage voice performance, as well as check whether the IP telephony network was operating correctly, he says.

We purchased numerous quality of service tools, all of which indicated that our IP telephony system was working. None of the tools could explain the mystery behind the small number of call quality issues that we were experiencing, continues Sharratt. We needed a tool to identify phone call experiences of customers as well as check the network infrastructure was working.


With a need to measure quality of experience as well as quality of service, Sharratt turned to Psytechnics, having followed the companys spin out from BT in 2000.

I was aware of the research the company had carried out into measuring customer quality of experience, when making phone calls over an IP telephony system. Psytechnics suggested Experience Manager, which manages voice performance in addition to measuring regular QoS, says Sharratt. Experience Manager can tell instantly if a customer has a poor quality telephone connection and pinpoint the cause of the problem. The software is proactive in flagging any disruption to call quality and is focused on ensuring a positive phone call experience.

Friends Provident started working with Psytechnics in November 2006, initially agreeing on metrics to measure end-user experience. The company opted to trial Experience Manager for one month, measuring the quality of experience on phone calls made to a Model Office setup to accept Live calls during the new Contact Center Trial.

The trial was successful, in that it really allowed us to instantly identify any drop in call quality that our regular quality of service tools did not recognize. At the same time, we were also looking at IBM Tivoli Netcool to provide an enterprise management platform. The fact that Psytechnics complimented Netcool and also integrated so well into our existing telephone infrastructure was another positive point, says Sharratt.  


As the Friends Provident six-star customer service program gathered momentum, the company felt that measuring a customers perception of a phone call was the way in which to maintain an edge over competitors. Coupled with the new contact center, the company felt it could ensure that its customers hang up the phone having been allocated to the correct agent.

In terms of voice performance management, Experience Manager is better than any other solution available, Sharratt says. The fact that you can resolve echo and noise in real time is pretty unique and very important when keeping customers satisfied with a predominately phone-based customer service program.

Friends Provident feels confident enough to migrate all employees to its IP telephony system. We, the IT team, are now able to easily identify deficiencies in end-user experience and keep up the Friends Provident six-star standard of customer service. We can check any call quality issues in real time and even tell remotely if a telephone handset or headset isnt working correctly, he says. Voice performance management may sound trivial, but it can be the difference between losing a customer due to repeated poor quality phone calls (and a negative perception of customer service), versus a triumphant and strong customer service record. There are simply too many other variants that have nothing to do with the network to rely solely on quality of service tools to run an enterprise-wide IP telephony infrastructure.

Never underestimate the importance of being able to measure your customers experience, continues Sharratt. As a business, customer satisfaction is one of our most important ways of measuring success.

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