If you have called Safaricom customer care recently, you might have picked up a few tell-tale signs that you could be engaging with an agent in a slightly different environment. A few people have deduced that the agents are indeed working from home, with all the measures set by Safaricom to keep their agents safe and their customers happy.
Anastacia Ngahu, a Senior Manager at the Information Technology Service Centre recounts the mad rush to keep systems running and staff safe at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies had to make a sudden transition to enable their employees work from home. On the other hand, Safaricom’s nature of business means that there was higher demand for services as their network offers functions that facilitate work from home.
“The pandemic happened abruptly. There was no time to prepare. We were required to support staff to work from home immediately,” recalls Anastacia.
Anastacia worked with the team at the Digital Information Technology Department to keep all critical functions moving with minimal disruption while at the same time transitioning staff from Kenya’s biggest call centre into an efficient work from home team.
The team comprises about 2,000 agents who had all been working from their call centre desktops. Safaricom had to source for laptops, but there was a glitch, borders were closed meaning no imports could be done.
Luckily, there were about 300 laptops being delivered for routine operations. They were quickly configured and distributed to the first batch of agents as the company tried to source for more locally. A lot of companies were also making emergency laptop purchases, and they were flying off the shelves so fast. Safaricom found another 400 machines that were configured and distributed to more agents at Jambo Contact Centre (JCC) and Eldoret Contact Centre.
Within two weeks, 700 customer care agents were working from home.
“Demand was still high. There were still agents working from the office, who we needed to transition home. So, we placed an order to import 500 more laptops,” Anastacia explains.
Anastacia and her team picked up a lesson from an experience they had two years ago when setting up the Eldoret Contact Centre.
“We had chosen to equip the new contact centre with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. This was a concept we had been designing to enhance user mobility. The thinking then was to allow for mobility by transitioning users to work remotely and access documents, while ensuring adherence to requisite security controls. They could also use different devices without depending on a computer or laptop,” she explains.
“Had we not prepared, we would not have achieved this enormous task. At Digital IT, we were well prepared with Safaricom’s future in view. We had cloud-native systems that made the transition manageable. All in all, this challenge brought lessons and opportunity. We learnt that when we do things, we should think of the future because it will soon be here,” Anastacia adds.
Through her team’s efforts, about 1,928 agents, accounting for 90 percent of the total number of agents at the call centre were able to start working from home. They are able to access their systems, collaborate and maintain service levels.
Safaricom’s End User Support Manager, also has a story to tell. He recounts the draining process of setting up equipment for staff to enable them work from home.
“We had to make sure that social distance was adhered to. Thus, we issued the equipment in batches from different locations and staff had to come sequentially to avoid crowding. Before we issued the devices, we configured them and only signed off after they were happy,” Augustine explains.
The call centre agents were equipped with step by step self help guides in case of any technical hitches. No IT staff would be able to go sort out their issues at home, so they had to learn how to get by on their own. However, when they hit a brickwall, they could call the service desk. They maintained constant communication through existing staff channels and made use of the frequently asked questions.
Prisca Namatsi, a service desk engineer, says they initially received up to a hundred calls daily with different problems and requests. This called for the team’s support, understanding and patience with their now customers.
“Fortunately, one of our team members developed a tool—the Abby Chatbot—to sort out most of the users’ problems, which significantly brought down the number of enquiries and staff eventually got used to the new normal,” Prisca explains.
The chatbot can handle some of the most common problems, such as resetting and unlocking a password. The rest of the queries were handled through the phone, and in some cases, the support team had to go and attend to the staff physically at their home workstations.
“Teams and Yammer, all within MSO365 and SharePoint, had just been deployed the previous year. Talk of prior preparation! This allowed sharing of documents and collaboration. Zoom also became very key for corporate communications and webinars. The team had to quickly learn and support the same,” explains Peter Mukera, an End User Administrator.
Some of the minor constraints included lack of space, network latencies and power interruptions with some equipment getting physically damaged, but overall, the transition was a success.
“Our customers have not even noticed any change in service. We remain notoriously customer obsessed and have not dropped on any service level agreements,” Anastacia says.
The customer care agents have since adjusted to a work from home life, executing their duties with ease amid a whole new routine.
Anastacia started working with Safaricom in 2003 as a consultant and later joined the team in 2006. She has been involved in setting up the desktop infrastructure in the four locations: Nairobi and regional headquarters such as JCC on Mombasa Road, Thika Call Centre and Eldoret Call Centre, including the Retail Centres, which have grown from six to more than 50 across the country.
After more than a decade with Safaricom, Anastacia says that nothing beats the value of preparedness. She says that it has made her work “a lot easier.”
Safaricom customers have continued enjoying seamless service from the country’s largest telecom. The demand for their services saw Safaricom dominate 68 percent of the home fibre market with a huge chunk of that from new subscriptions by employees working from home.