Making Services more Accessible for Vulnerable Residents
The council has recently introduced a Community Hubs model of service delivery with the vision ‘to ensure community aspirations are raised using a holistic partnership approach’. This had created an inconsistent experience for those customers accessing services through the Community Hubs and the central Customer Service Centre (CSC) in the civic centre, who, like most other Local Authorities, are pushing digital channels and are encouraged to adhere to strict targets and service level agreements in order to manage demand with decreasing resource.
There were complex processes and governance that blocked customer service advisors (CSAs) from being able to deliver what their customers needed at the first point-of-contact in the newly formed Community Hubs. In addition to this, there are different messages and services available dependant on where a customer has presented.
The Human Engine team supported officers from the central CSC and the Community Hubs to align the council’s customer service access point to improve collaborative working, empower frontline staff and provide a consistent experience for customers.
Working with a team of officers we identified a series of business problems to solve as part of the project:
There was no joined-up approach between back-office teams and frontline teams
There was not a consistent understanding of the Community Hub vision or expectations of partnership working between access points
Customer communications were inconsistent, and expectations of customers were not set at the correct level, resulting in low satisfaction levels for both officers and customers
The Human Engine team used our signature Improvement Drive methodology, designed to deliver fast and sustainable employee-led improvement.
The Improvement Drive is a four-step methodology delivered over 12-weeks to facilitate employee-led change and coaching to leave teams with the skills and tools to deliver continuous improvement. We work with teams, not doing to them, to increase employee ownership and engagement. It is an approach to improvement that avoids ‘change fatigue’ and supports teams to design their own solutions to specific business problems. The four stages are:
Discover: Build a knowledge base about the business problems we want to solve. This is gathered through use of data about the service, basic process mapping and using anecdotal evidence / ‘lived experience’ of officers in the frontline teams
Design: Once business problems have been identified, work to design solutions that will help overcome these. Understand the complexity of potential solutions – can these be delivered within 12 weeks?
Deliver: Test solutions with major stakeholders through pilot schemes, focus groups or workshops. Begin rollout testing basis to increase uptake of new ways of working
Determine: Review the impact of each solution. Rollout solutions to all users of the service during this period.
Within 12 weeks the project team delivered four key solutions to improve back-office process, communication and joined-up working between teams:
Priority telephone numbers: Officers highlighted that they were unable to access specialist support when a customer was vulnerable. The officers had the same number as the general public for teams such as Housing or Revenues. The project team implemented and piloted direct numbers to teams to reduce the time it takes to support customers when they are at their most vulnerable
Letters and Correspondence: The team redesigned letter and correspondence templates for customer appointments to ensure the most important information is presented up-front and any ‘call to action’ for the customer is made clear
Training: The Community Hubs team attended frontline team meetings to inform customer service officers of the hub model, answer questions and take feedback. Officers from the Hubs and CSC will rotate shadowing on a weekly basis, to provide knowledge sharing and opportunities to innovate and share ideas to improve the customer experience
Referral form: Building on a newly formed collaboration between the CSC and Hubs, the project team built a referral form to create better handoffs for customers. This enables better information sharing between teams as well as avoidance of duplication for the customer
In addition to these improvements, the project team were keen to address the way in which they support customers who are in genuine crisis. This is probably the teams’ proudest and most valuable series of outputs:
Food voucher availability: Food parcels and vouchers are available and often distributed at Hub locations, however they are not available in the CSC. Officers in the CSC were either: (1) sending customers in crisis away and direct them to locations they cannot afford to get to, or (2) using their own money to buy customers food and water. Working with the Welfare Assistance Team there are now £5 vouchers available for the nearest supermarket across all locations that officers are empowered to distribute
Payment Card availability: Contrastingly to food vouchers, crisis loans for customers in financial crisis were only available from the CSC and not the Community Hubs where many customers were presenting. Working with the Welfare Assistance Team payments card have been made available at all locations
Officer Empowerment: Close working with the Welfare Assistance Team has resulted in frontline officers being able to “make the call” to prioritise crisis payments. The process has been improved so that the Welfare Assistance Team will complete any crisis payment requests from frontline teams within one hour.
Improved Insight: The project team and Welfare Assistance Team identified that within the application process there were hundreds of customers taking advantage of the system who should not have been allocated payment. By placing the process further into the community and delivered by the Hubs, frontline officers will have more control to ensure payments reach the customers that are most in need and reduce the number of payments going to customers who do not urgently require the support.
These small but critical improvements have increased frontline teams’ ability to support customers at the first-point-of-contact. Officers have been empowered and given the autonomy to act when they recognise the signs of crisis – improving their satisfaction and, ultimately, improving customer outcomes and experience.
Human Engine is a Financial Times top-ranked management consultancy with specialisms in strategy, people and performance.
It was founded by a group of former local government officers who think the public sector deserves better than it gets from traditional consulting firms – more human, more personal and more knowledgeable of the reality of delivering modern public services.
We have worked with dozens of public sector organisations to help transform their strategies, operations and cultures to be more agile, commercial and entrepreneurial in order to achieve financial sustainability and improved outcomes for local people and communities.
We are currently writing our latest report, The Commercial Edge, in partnership with leading think tank Localis, making the case for entrepreneurialism in public services and local investment as a catalyst for economic recovery and growth.