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Barclays Merchant Services uses WITNESS simulation software from the Lanner Group to optimise call handling processes


Barclays Merchant Services (BMS), the retailer relationship arm of UK-based Barclaycard, operates call centres that handle more than 20 million authorisation calls a year. Additionally, up to 80,000 calls a month are handled by its merchant support call centre. Huge costs are inherent in establishing a call centre, with the majority relating to staffing. Determining labour requirements accurately is essential when setting up any new business venture, and Barclays Merchant Services is using WITNESS to optimise the number of employees required to handle calls and the number and length of shifts.

This call centre provides service to retailers reporting problems such as PDQ equipment and financial queries. It also handles questions from new members on procedures, and responses to recruitment drives for merchants. BMS needs to know when and how employees should be deployed during core volume shifts. This has to be balanced with patterns of calls and peak hours to ensure phones are not over- or undermanned, while meeting specified service levels.

In its search for accurate and reliable predictions, BMS looked at various simulation packages. Functionality was key, as was support, in order to train the people who would use the product. “After seeing three demos of different products, we chose WITNESS," says Mike Tubb, manager, continuous improvement team. “We chose it because of its capabilities and the reputation Lanner has for support.”

WITNESS enables users to build business models that can predict the outcome of specific scenarios in terms of customer service, resource utilisation and cost. By varying the data that drives the system and the rules under which the process operates, WITNESS can compare results from each scenario.

WITNESS is used by all the major banking groups in the U.K. including Midland, Lloyds TSB, NatWest Life Assurance, Bank of Scotland, and a number of building societies and insurance companies, such as Prudential Assurance.

To assess the reliability of the software, BMS set up a pilot to predict the following month’s service requirements for the help-line. When the forecast figures were compared with actual service provided, they were remarkably close, confirms Mr. Tubb. “The trial was essential because we needed robust proof of its reliability as a re-engineering tool.”

With the reliability of the software verified, BMS fleshed out the model which takes into account the changing volume of calls over the week, and plugged in assumptions about the skills and effectiveness of each agent, availability of systems to support those agents, and tested out different theories on manning the call centre. The WITNESS model revealed that specified service levels could be achieved with fewer man hours than initial predictions suggested. Says Tubb: 

“We were able to reduce overtime costs by between £80,000 and £100,000 a year while still fulfilling the service promise to our customers.

“WITNESS has become a vital tool in our customer service and budgeting processes, identifying resource requirements for varying scenarios.

“Our ultimate aim is to model the whole business. We picked the merchant support centre first because the correct resourcing of our front-line units for excellent customer service is our number one priority. Now that we can measure the impact of change in an environment that mirrors the true one, we avoid experimenting with the risks and costs of people in real-time. And where we can calculate an ideal shift pattern but may not be able to implement it immediately, we can use WITNESS to measure the implications.”

According to Chris Dealy, business consultant at Lanner, BMS has been continually surprised at the flexibility of WITNESS. “WITNESS models scenarios that BMS couldn’t model any other way, and answers questions they couldn’t answer before.

“Because the model is so flexible, we can throw any idea into the works that can be imagined,” Dealy says. “If it was announced that the value-added tax would be doubled and panic buying followed in the shops, how many agents would be needed, what proportion of temps would be optimal and where would they all sit? When would the call centre operation finally fall over? WITNESS can model all kinds of disasters and simulate the overflow.”

Tubb explains the value of WITNESS in one word. 

“What the software offers is confidence,” he states. “The user won't need to worry because he will have already modelled all the possibilities and knows what will happen. We’re not just offering savings and improved service here; we're selling a good night's sleep!”


As a result of its success in the support centre, Barclays Merchant Services has selected a second area, the authorisation call centre, to model in WITNESS. Also Barclays Cardholder Services has just signed up for a system, bringing the total number of WITNESS licenses used by Barclays to four.

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