Improving Customer Experience
We have supported officers in a London Borough to align the council's customer service access points to work more collaboratively, empower frontline staff and provide a consistent experience for customers.
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 Customer Service Centre (CSC), who, like most other Local Authorities, are pushing digital channels and are trying to manage growing demand with decreasing resource.
There were complex processes and governance that sometimes made it difficult for customer service advisors (CSAs) to deliver what they felt customers needed at the first-point-of-contact. In addition to this, there are different messages and services available depending on whether a customer presented at the Civic Centre or one of the local Community Hubs.
Working with a team of officers we identified a series of business problems to solve as part of the project:
There was not a 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.
Customer communications were inconsistent, and expectations of customers were not set at the correct level, resulting in low satisfaction levels for both CSAs and customers.
The Human Engine team used our Drive Methodology to implement a 12-week Improvement Drive to overcome the key business problems. This is a 4-step process to deliver a project, which maintains momentum throughout and promotes employee-led change.
Outputs and Outcomes
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: CSAs highlighted that they were unable to access specialist support when a customer was vulnerable. The CSAs have the same number as the general public for teams such as Housing or Revenues. The project team have implemented and are piloting 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 anything the customer needed to do is made clear.
Training: The Community Hubs team attended frontline team meetings to inform customer service staff and answer questions and take feedback. Staff from the Hubs and CSC will rotate shadowing on a weekly basis, to provide knowledge sharing and to continue 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 in genuine crisis. This is probably the teams’ proudest and most valuable series of outputs:
Food Parcel availability: Food parcels are available and often distributed at Hub locations, however they were not available in the CSC. CSAs in the CSC were either: (1) sending customers in crisis away and directing them to locations they cannot afford to get to, or (2) using their own money to buy customers food and water. Food parcels are now available in the CSC for those in need and unable to travel to the food banks. Work is in progress with the Welfare Assistance Team to make £5 vouchers available for vulnerable people to buy food in an emergency at the nearest supermarket. Staff at all locations will be empowered to distribute these if they feel a customer is in genuine need.
Payment Card availability: For crisis payments, the opposite was true. These were only available from the CSC and not in the Community Hubs where many customers were presenting. Working again with the Welfare Assistance Team, payment cards have been made available at all locations.
Staff Empowerment: Closer working with the Welfare Assistance Team has resulted in frontline staff being able to “make the call” to prioritise crisis payments. The process has been improved so that the Welfare Assistance Team can complete any crisis payment requests from frontline teams within one hour. This places responsibility for assessing customer need with the teams who are working with vulnerable customers, day in, day out.
Better Outcomes: By moving decision making closer to the community and delivered by the Hubs, frontline staff 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. CSAs 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.