Howdens is the UK’s number one trade kitchen supplier, with UK sales of £1.6 billion in 2019. They provide thousands of product lines across kitchens, joinery, hardware, and bathrooms to their trade customers. Their operations include 3 UK-based manufacturing sites at Howden, East Yorkshire, and Runcorn, Cheshire, a dedicated supply chain and efficient warehouse structure.

Central to their operations is their estate of over 700 depots who support their trade-only model. They take over 40,000 calls every day and operate an ‘in-stock’ product framework, where builders can expect to ‘get the product they need to complete the job’ from their nearest local depot.


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In response to government guidelines at the start of Covid-19, Howdens closed in quick succession firstly their offices, leaving only skeleton staff, then their manufacturing operations and over 700 trade depots. The rapid shut down of their physical operations meant that overnight they needed to support unprecedented levels of remote working.

During the following weeks, once social-distancing measures were in place, Howdens quickly began the process of re-opening their depots. This rapid transition created an ever-changing landscape of requirements for the IT team, with different parts of the business all needing IT resource at the same time, which presented further management complexity.

Business call handling remotely – Both the credit control team, who handled calls from trade account holders, and support teams based in the manufacturing area, who handled maintenance queries for appliances from both customers and depots, needed access to business phone lines remotely.

Efficient call routing – As depots were re-opening and at the end of every day the IT team were using the Akixi call reporting to analyse call volumes and missed calls, then making decisions on where to re-route call traffic as further depots re-opened.

Business continuity and agility – The business needed to continue to fulfil orders for kitchens. To support with this, an increasing number of staff returned to the business to new working practices and new applications such as Office365.

One Saturday morning, following some out of hours test calls, one of the depots called me and said they were going through their ‘Smart Missed Calls’ list and then calling back to help with new enquiries or queries. Whilst it was a test call that this depot had spotted, it really showed the value the Akixi missed calls reporting was adding.

How Redcentric helped

Faced with unprecedented levels of remote working, there was an urgent need to provide additional capacity on networks as well as to support staff working from home. This placed an unforeseen level of demand on IT resource.

The Redcentric team proposed a number of solutions to enable remote-working and worked hand in hand with the Howdens team, to ensure that solutions were in place to allow Howdens to continue to run their business while following the latest government guidelines on Covid-19.

Enabled remote-workers – Staff needed to be able to make and receive business calls using the usual office numbers on any device. The addition of the Unity ‘Collaborate’ licencing gave staff a ‘softphone capability’ so they could work remotely using their usual business lines. This ensured customers had the same experience when calling Howdens staff working remotely, as previously.

Intelligent call routing – Over 40,000 calls every day were being handled by a reduced number of depots operating with skeleton staff. To reduce pressure on depots, the IVR auto-attendant feature of Redcentric’s telephony solution was enabled so that callers could select one of four options and automatically be routed to the correct team. Around 5% of daily calls were routed away from depots to other functions such as credit control and other supporting functions, relieving pressure on depots and giving a time saving of over 35 hours per day across the whole depot estate of talk-time.

Mark Witcomb – Director of IS Infrastructure & Service Delivery said

Redcentric were working out of hours, remotely and across the Easter bank holiday, to put large-scale revisions of the call routing in place, so that inbound calls were routed to newly re-opened depots in preparation for the next trading day.


Call reporting by business area – The Akixi call reporting was used daily to update business areas on call volumes and statistics, showing the time saved by call routing, and to drive decisions and changes daily for call routing.

Smarter working – Individual depots increased usage of ‘Smart Missed Calls’ reporting to show which calls had been missed and determine who needed calling back. As well as ensuring Howden’s were able to respond to all callers, this provided additional insight into where those calls were coming from and the reasons for those calls.

The latest development on the IVR and call routing is the result of Redcentric listening to our requirements and developing to our needs. It’s key to our working relationship and why we value them.

Business Benefits

Mark Witcomb said, “We have a much better understanding of how to support users with both telephony and remote-working.

The ability to take business calls at home using the usual phone numbers, the call routing and diverts as well as the Akixi call reporting have been critical in enabling us to support the business and continue trading throughout Covid-19.”

Trusted partner – “Our IT teams worked very closely together daily, firstly to put remote-working solutions in place and then to support us with daily changes to our call routing. We were sharing the call routing plan for the next trading day and relying on the team at Redcentric to put large-scale revisions of the call routing in place using scripts, without which we could not have kept up with the pace of change.”

Smart working – “We were taking over 40,000 calls across the depot estate and saving over 35 hours per day across the depot estate of talk-time by using the Redcentric IVR to route calls to the right place first time.”

Actionable insight – “We really saw the value of the Akixi reporting to drive decisions and were able to show the business how we were managing pressure on depots and using resources more efficiently.”

Flexible capacity and agility – “We have defined a blueprint for different types of remote-working scenarios. We have many solutions in the armoury for different situations which gives us greater flexibility and the ability to react much faster going forward.”

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