New spotlight on ‘Albert’ amid wider ‘race to the bottom’ concerns in Consumer

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Thursday 1st April 2021

The damning findings of a comprehensive CWU survey into members’ experience of the revised ‘operating model’ that was introduced in BT Consumer contact centres just over a year ago have prompted new talks with the company.

Despite repeated attempts by the CWU to flag up concerns that the new system in general – and the  ‘Albert’ support tool  in particular – is routinely failing to provide the seamless guidance to advisors in certain functions that was promised when it was introduced early last year, to date senior management  have remained impervious to criticism of the system.

Bosses have always insisted that, so long as employees follow every cue of the automated support tool – adhering rigidly to the direction ‘Albert’  takes customer conversations in, even where they think they already know precisely what the customer wants – even the most inexperienced advisors will be able to provide good customer service every time.

As such, the rollout of ‘Albert’ was accompanied by Consumer’s unilateral decision to remove Camp3/ local case manager roles, with the company insisting that neither ‘subject matter specialists’ nor any real experience is needed as managers would be able to provide the necessary support whenever required.

But with consistent feedback from large numbers  of members disputing that assertion – and ‘off the record’ indications received by branches that many lower-level managers dislike the new operating model, last month the CWU initiated a major survey of Consumer members.

The results leave no room for doubt that, especially parts of Service where customer conversations are more complicated and unpredictable, the union’s concerns have been well-founded from the outset.

Of 1,859 members who participated in the survey, no fewer than 1,619 (87.1%) said they believed that the new operating model that was supposed to make their jobs easier had actually made it more complicated.

Stephen Albon

Asked specifically whether the ‘Albert’ support tool has had a positive impact on their role, 72% of the respondents said it had not. 13% said it had made no difference either way, with just 10% saying it had been helpful.

And, despite management’s consistent claims that the new operating model has resulted in better customer service, just 9.6% of respondents agreed that was the case – as opposed to 68.2% who disagreed.

“The findings of the survey could hardly be clearer,” insists CWU national officer for Consumer, Stephen Albon. “Despite what management have been telling us from the outset, there are clearly problems with the new operating model which removed the support previously provided by experienced and appropriately rewarded Camp3 advisers, shifting that responsibility onto Team Leaders who are ill-equipped to fill that role.

“We know that in Connections and Home Moves in particular – along with other work areas where customer conversations are more complex – the situation is causing a lot of stress for members.

 “From the outset we’ve advised members to follow the pre-ordained script of the Albert support tool from the start to the end of every conversation – because that’s what the business has been demanding and we don’t want individuals to find themselves subject to disciplinary action. The survey has confirmed, however, that in some lines of business following ‘Albert’ is causing problems – because it simply doesn’t provide the solutions that are required.

“We’ve shared our results with the company and a number of meetings have been set up to go through the issues raised. While we accept that ‘Albert’ is working better in some areas than in others, the CWU believes our survey demonstrates the need for a Camp3-graded role to provide advisers with the assistance they need.”


Wider ‘race to the bottom’ concerns…

As well as continuing to challenge the ‘new operating model’ the CWU is also at loggerheads with the business over the unagreed imposition of new terms and conditions for new starters.

Initially the company’s unilateral decision to remove Bank Holiday and Sunday premiums was restricted to new beginners being recruited on new TM1 contracts, but now that has extended to new TM3 grade appointments.

The move, which is expected to reduce those individuals’ earning capacity by between £2,000 and £3,000 a year, has the potential to impact seriously on existing members of staff because, as the number of employees on these contracts grow, cost-cutting managers will be tempted to use the cheapest staff for those rosters.

Assistant secretary Stephen Albon concludes: “Ultimately this is all about a race to the bottom on terms & conditions and grading – and that’s why members need to stand together and support the union’s Count Me in campaign.