Case study

Sainsbury: With the reassurance of BT professional services and smartnumbers, a customer service commitment can be made with confidence

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Customers ringing Sainsbury’s supermarkets get dramatically improved call experiences with the BT smartnumbers platform

Sainsbury’s had a problem with in-store call answering. Raised at a September 2010 Sainsbury’s management meeting, Rob Fraser committed to solve it by Christmas – with 4,000 people as witnesses.

Up his sleeve were the results of a successful trial of the BT smartnumbers service – but more than 500 stores had to be converted in just three months. A great team effort between BT and Sainsbury’s saw the last store go live on 23rd December 2010.

With fewer calls to answer, Sainsbury’s customer service people can deal with shoppers more professionally. Job satisfaction and morale are better too.

It was a tremendous effort by BT. My colleagues were amazed that we managed to implement such a complex project in so little time. Our Director of Retail Operations still mentions it almost every time I see him!”
- Rob Fraser, IT Director, J Sainsbury plc


At Sainsbury’s supermarkets, dealing with phone calls while providing prompt attention to shoppers was a constant challenge. At busy times like Christmas, telephone enquiries went through the roof, compounding the problem. But nearly half of customers calling supermarkets simply want to know about opening times.

As Sainsbury’s principal supplier of communications services, BT piloted a smartnumbers solution in 20 stores, and also monitored a 20-store control group.

The pilot solution automated routine customer enquiries using BT smartnumbers to route calls to the trial stores through a hosted interactive voice response (IVR) platform. During the month-long trial statistics were gathered about call volumes, durations, hold times, and abandoned calls. A clear picture emerged of improved customer service, greater productivity, and happier store staff.


BT smartnumbers is a cloud-based service that can direct calls virtually from anywhere to anywhere across any combination of fixed or mobile networks, while call routings can be changed online in real time.

Rob Fraser, IT Director at J Sainsbury, takes up the story: “There was a lively debate about call answering arrangements at our annual management conference in September. In front of 4,000 people, and having seen the trial results, I promised to solve the problem by Christmas. I was delighted with the positive can-do response from BT to that commitment.”

A BT project team was set up. The challenge was to deploy the pilot solution to 456 stores in just seven weeks. In fact, BT delivered the solution to 530 stores, achieving the stretch target set by Sainsbury’s. The only time that changes to call routing arrangements could be carried out and tested was when stores were closed overnight, needing tremendous teamwork and commitment from BT.

The platform adopted for the rollout provides callers with four options. Store location and opening times are dealt with by a recorded message; recruitment enquiries are directed to Sainsbury’s HR website; and calls about the Nectar rewards scheme receive details of the Nectar helpdesk. The fourth option connects callers direct to the customer service desk.


The implementation was largely complete by mid-December, with the final store going live on the 23rd of that month. The benefits are very evident. By reducing the volume of customer enquiries reaching in-store staff, more time is available for customer service.

Instant responses for the most commonly requested information, and much reduced call waiting times, are other benefits.

Call abandonment rates have plummeted, showing a substantial improvement in customer service,” confirms Rob Fraser.

Now, with fewer calls to answer, Sainsbury’s customer service people present a more professional face to shoppers, with parallel positive impacts on job satisfaction and morale.

Rob Fraser sums up: “BT really stepped up to the challenge. A board in Sainsbury’s headquarters depicts suppliers as heroes or villains. I’m pleased to say that BT is featured very much as a hero.”

Core BT Services

  • CRM solution comprising BT smartnumbers and BT Auto Contact hosted IVR


Case study