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Lessons Learned on the Road to Customer Service Improvement

Learn More About Alberta Pensions Services, 2017 ICMI Global Contact Center Award Winner for Most Improved Customer Service

“Nice work on improving FCR scores. It’s clear that this team is forward-thinking, thoughtful, and strategic in their approach to improving the customer experience.”  -ICMI Global Contact Center Awards Judges

When it comes to customer service, there’s almost always room for improvement. And as customer expectations rise, finding ways to improve becomes more critical. For the past two years, ICMI has recognized organizations making significant strides to improve the service they provide. This year’s winner was Alberta Pensions Services (APS), the company that guides the pension experience on behalf of Alberta’s public sector pension plans. Curious to learn more about their journey? Read on to find out how and why they embarked on an organizational transformation, and what they learned along the way.

Alberta Pension Services

Major Organizational Transformation

Much like other contact centers across the globe, over the past two years, APS had to adapt and respond to client needs faster and more efficiently than ever before. Their team saw a huge spike in call volume, which increased by 50,000 in 2015. At the same time, their email exploded from 200 contacts per month to 3,000.

In response to the growing demands, APS decided it was time to upgrade their pension administration systems, which as a result, changed every customer engagement process and procedure. Dubbed as the “Next Generation project,” the transformation introduced brand new technology to address the growing and future demands on APS’ services.

The impact of the change spanned every area of the business. Through new processes, updated policy and reporting procedures, an integrated training and communication plan, to even system login, there wasn’t one aspect of the business that wasn’t affected. Implementing new technology and systems meant impacts to every client group and each contact center representative; significant planning was required to mitigate potential organizational risk. So, why the change?

Recognizing the Need to Evolve

APS was once a single channel organization, supporting customers mainly via phone. That quickly changed over the last few years, and contact center leadership realized it was time to evolve the QA program to encompass the additional channels. At the same time, they decided to overhaul all customer-facing technology applications.

“The new system implementation was going to succeed or fail based upon how it worked for our clients and how we were going to be able to support them throughout the change,” said Troy Diakow, Executive Director, Client Services for APS. “Our contact center was in need of upgrading and adapting to facilitate this significant organizational change; we needed to make our QA program more comprehensive and then adapt it to our transformational needs.”

A careful strategy is a key to any successful transformation, so to support the strategic changes, APS focused on a core set of value drivers: Compliance, Accuracy, Service Performance, Cost, Employee Well-Being, and Client Satisfaction. The “growing pains” their team experienced in the two years leading up to the new management system’s implementation were tempered by an unrelenting focus on the client experience, and the strategic vision allowed them to integrate best practices successfully and gracefully. Even so, the APS contact center learned quite a few lessons along the way.

The Road to Customer Service Improvement

On their path to growth, the APS team learned one fundamental lesson: that client’s needs are unique and distinct. To meet those individual needs, APS focused on adapting their processes to suit customers – not the other way around. How did they do that? In a variety of ways:

Building the Right Team

In a highly complex and personalized field, the knowledge needed to serve customers is immense. With a combination of legislative requirements, policy changes, administrative and fiduciary responsibility and the empathy required to respond to individual client life events (i.e., death, losing a job, retirement, marriage, divorce), APS contact center representatives need a particular skill set to ensure a positive client experience. That means the recruitment processes must be thorough and the onboarding program intense to ensure clients receive the best care possible.

Internal Collaboration

A collaborative approach was essential to guarantee their service model synced with the rest of the organization. When it comes to the success of their customer experience program, they involved internal staff wherever necessary. At APS, contact center reps are essentially an intelligence gathering team – they have firsthand knowledge of the most frequent issues clients face, so they share that feedback in a variety of ways, including with:

  • The Policy Department, to help address legislation that may present roadblocks
  • The Finance Department, to ensure consistent and efficient payment processing
  • The Back Office Operations, to provide efficient benefit processing
  • The Business Technology Departments, to implement technology solutions

Careful Communication

During the transition to a new pension administration system, APS contact center leaders worked hand-in-hand with the communications team to elaborate on an extensive support plan and changes to the contact center. Managing client expectations was a top priority, and working with the communications team to create an expectation management plan allowed APS to mitigate client frustration when learning the new system, dealing with bumps in the road to implementation, and responding to issues in a timely fashion.

Client Education

During the Next Generation Implementation, APS’ Client Education team was out in the field educating clients face-to-face on how to use the new pension administration system. Weekly, they provided contact center reps with Frequently Asked Questions so they could address common issues with clients quickly and efficiently.


How has the transformation impacted APS and its clients? The Next Generation project brought huge change to the organization and while there was a danger that customer service would slide due to unforeseen technological circumstances, that didn’t happen. The numbers speak for themselves.  APS’ FCR score soared from 76% at the start of 2016 to over 87% by the end of the year, and the team also reports record high employee engagement scores.

“We attribute that success to proactive planning, extensive team training, live feedback, organizational collaboration, research, and an unrelenting customer service ethic,” says Diakow.

Interested in learning more of the APS story? Register for our October 5 Customer Service Week webinar! Brian Lesson, Manager of Member Services at APS, will be on hand to share details of their journey.