Between 2019 – 2020, C.Co worked closely with a large city council to undertake a fundamental review into its customer service function. This was with the aim of ensuring it was closely aligned to its digital programme to see if there were ways to modernise, improving customer experience, finding efficiencies and making savings in the service.
The starting point of the city council’s review was to understand what mattered most from a customer perspective. These were often related to the services they expect from the council, such as issues regarding bin collections, as well as navigating communications, including understanding letters and using the website. From here it was possible to see whether the activity and actions within customer services and the wider organisation were able to best meet these needs in the most effective way.
We worked with the service to conduct a ‘hands on’ understanding of all channels of customer contact – including face to face, telephone, email, web chat and digital. By analysing and understanding the demands placed on the organisation, we were able very quickly to uncover some significant areas for improvement.
The demand analysis helped the authority to recognise that a large proportion of telephone and email contact that customers had with the council failed to add value for them. This contact also placed additional burden on the council, with long response times adding pressure and frustration.
The majority of the city council’s contact was either avoidable, such as customers reporting things that the council had got wrong, for example, promising following up with a customer query, only for the customer to have not heard anything in response, or occurred when the council had failed to provide clear messages, such as uncertain wording on letters, complicated online forms, and the need for better signposting of bin collections and road works. Sometimes, the adviser could not provide an answer and had to pass the call on to another part of the council, only then for the customer to duplicate the entire call process.
It transpired from our analysis of sitting ‘side by side’ with the customer service team that 80% of contact was potentially avoidable, a significant number of which were often repeated questions and complaints or issues that the customer service team could not resolve. There was also a large incidence of people emailing and then, as they had had no answer, calling or coming into the council offices in person. This amount of resource and effort did not even take into account the large number of callers who, our team identified, could have self-served more quickly and conveniently through significant improvement of enhanced digital channels. Requests for information, such as ‘what day is my bin collected?’ for example are much better accessed online.
As well as system and process improvements, we also helped the council to see the root cause of these issues – the people and the management. We helped devise, design, and implement a radical plan to change the way things were done. This mean changes to systems and processes, as well as culture and behaviours. This enabled a whole raft of change – saving money, improving customer satisfaction, and altering staff roles and responsibilities. This allowed for greater self-management and trust within the team, a greatly improved ‘one council’ approach to solving customer enquiries, and an upskilling of staff.
The ultimate outcome of the work not only saved the city council around £1M per year by reducing the unnecessary customer contact requirement, but it also ensured that going forward, customer interaction with the council was much more effective and valuable and ultimately helped to improve the council’s reputation.
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