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Thursday, 24 April 2014

We care! Whitehaven call centre wins praise

A WHITEHAVEN team is breaking new ground in customer service by transforming the way one of the region's biggest companies supports people in need.

UUcarelinepic1
We care: Members of United Utilities’ Careline team. Back row, from left, Rhona Moreland, Susan McDowell, Louise Sisson, Caroline Hannon, Chris Miller, Ken Watson, Roger Vincent, Kayleigh Fulton-Sanderson. Front, from left, Joanne Glaister, Christine Graham and John McAleavey

Water firm United Utilities’ Careline team, based in its Whitehaven call centre, is thought to be one of the first of its kind in any UK utility call centre and has earned praise from customers and consumer watchdogs.

Established a year ago to help customers struggling to manage their water account because of issues like ill health, family trauma or bereavement, the team of 13 specially-trained staff is now handling about 1,100 calls a week.

“When you’re dealing with serious issues in your life, even day-to-day chores like managing your water account can feel like having a mountain to climb,” said team leader Louise Sisson, aged 23, from Egremont.

“We have the time to help those people. Sometimes we have to talk to carers or other people with power of attorney. Our specialist knowledge helps us cut through red tape and negotiate the intricacies of data protection laws which other front line staff just wouldn't be equipped to do.”

Any one of United Utilities’ 3.2 million customers can get through to the company’s Whitehaven call centre if they dial the number at the top of their bill for help with their account.

If they are distressed or in need, their call is passed straight through to Careline, where staff have been trained by external expert agencies such as the mental health charity MIND, Assisted Probate Services and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, among others.

Team members are now arranging a job swap with staff from Whitehaven Citizens’ Advice Bureau to boost their skills.

“We’re a really proactive team and there’s a real buzz about working here. The whole call centre is really focused and friendly and people want to help. Careline has received a lot of positive feedback from customers.

“Every week, we get a letter or email from someone saying how much we’ve helped. We hear some quite harrowing stories and can be on the phone for an hour with some people, but you get real job satisfaction out of it,” said Louise.

The Careline team has received positive feedback from a number of charities as well as the water industry consumer body CCWater, which last month published a report showing complaints about United Utilities had dropped by 31 per cent in a year. United Utilities has also been approached by other utilities thinking about replicating the service in their own businesses.

Call centre manager Helen Culligan said: “We have had nothing but compliments for that team and it's one of the ways we’re really making great strides with customer service."

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