How Age UK and Zing built safe, scalable and cost effective services for volunteers and the elderly
Time to read: 4 minutes
Age UK helps more than seven million older people each year by providing advice and support. It also researches and campaigns on the issues that matter most to older people.
Key to the support it provides are advice services via its confidential Age UK Advice Line, The Silver Line Helpline which is available 24x7 at any time of the day or night for a friendly chat, and free telephone friendship services that match volunteers with those missing the joy of regular conversation.
“We did our research and chose Twilio Flex. We had experience of the underlying Twilio tech, which we were very happy and familiar with,” said Alasdair.
“But one of the biggest attractions was being able to pay per hour, rather than per user. That was huge to us because, alongside our staff, we have lots of volunteers who may only login and take calls for a few hours each month. To buy licenses for each of them would send costs skyrocketing. So, Twilio’s pricing model was very attractive.”
Age UK also spoke to several development partners.
“It became clear that Zing worked the way we like to work, but crucially, Zing had the ability to deliver in the timescale that we wanted.”
Age UK contacted Zing on a Wednesday, by Friday they’d received a proposal, and work began on the following Monday. Within ten weeks, the Age UK Advice Line and other customer service lines had been moved to Flex.
“We were very happy to be able to move onto Flex in a timeframe that we would never have thought possible. If someone said we could move our highest volume and most complex telephone lines in only eight to twelve weeks, we would’ve said, ‘yeah, that’s never happening’ but with the help of Zing, that’s what we achieved. It was brilliant.”
“Our Advice Lines and Helplines work slightly differently to typical commercial customer service or sales lines – we need extra, different functionality, and with Twilio and Zing, we were able to innovate and build out these extra features for our staff, volunteers, and callers at a relatively low cost.”
One of the reasons Age UK selected the Twilio Flex platform was for the future opportunities with messaging and other text communication channels. After the public-facing services and telephone lines were transferred to the Flex platform, work was undertaken to expand Age UK’s existing website virtual assistant to enable a seamless handover to humans when necessary.
By asking “is this helpful?” and “are we giving you the answers you’re looking for”, the chatbot is constantly checking to see if human intervention is needed. When it is, Age UK’s advisers are provided a transcript of the conversation in Flex as part of the handover, enabling them to pick up and resolve the user’s query.
Twilio Flex has enabled Age UK to scale up in a very cost-effective way. As staff and volunteer numbers grow, it scales in hours rather than expensive user licenses. Before the move, Age UK had seven different telephony systems across different teams and parts of the organisation; it now supports just two, both of which are pay per use, resulting in significant savings.
“This has saved us considerable sums of money, not just on the telephony side, but by reducing the complexity and cost of needing to maintain complicated networks across our UK offices. As everything is now cloud based, we do not need to worry about patching and maintaining physical servers anymore – or the associated costs of doing so,” said Alasdair.
With Zing helping Age UK bring all its telephone services onto a single platform, Flex – including The Silver Line Helpline – volunteers from anywhere in the country can log-in and pick-up calls at any time. Previously, they’d have had to go into a physical office in either Blackpool or London.
“This has significantly boosted the number of volunteer applications and our ability to onboard volunteers across the country (an increase of 242% from 2020), which has greatly improved the experience for elderly callers who get to speak with a much more diverse range of people.
“It’s provided a much more convenient way for people to volunteer. The Silver Line Helpline now has volunteers all over the country, which the older people love. The volunteers they speak to have different accents, different life experiences, different age ranges – a lot more diversity and opportunity for new and different conversations,” said Alasdair.
By adding web chat functionality and enabling the virtual assistant to hand over to humans when appropriate, satisfaction levels are high (an average of 4.2 stars out of 5). The number of web chats Age UK handles has grown from the low hundreds to thousands each quarter.
“It’s a lovely extra channel that has allowed us to reach people in a different way. It’s been positively received. Chat is important for a wide variety of reasons, not least because people sometimes come to us with things that they find quite difficult to discuss. Text based chat can really help in these cases.”
“We’re here to help as many older people as possible, especially those most in need,, and the work by Zing and the Twilio Flex platform really helps us do that,” said Alasdair.
“We used to feel like we were trying to put square pegs in round holes. Flex provides a lot of functionality out of the box, which is constantly improving, but because it’s so customisable we engaged with Zing and have been able to build exactly what we need.”
“The beauty of the flexibility is that we do not have to worry about the technology in the background. It’s all quite magical.”