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Customer Contact and Care Strategy

Customer Contact and Care Strategy

Great Lives, Excellent Services

2008 - 2011

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Personalisation and Customer Empowerment
Efficiency and Effectiveness
Moving Services to the Front Office
Front Office Shared Services
People Skills
Customer Complaints
Guiding Principles
Links to other Strategies


Society’s attitudes towards standards of service delivery, quality and customer care are continuing to change in many ways. Expectations are continuing to rise at an ever increasing pace.

We are all no longer prepared to be passive recipients of services, or settle for second best. We expect more control, more choice and high quality at competitive prices. There are many examples of this especially in the retail, leisure, holiday and banking industries. It is no longer true to say that “you get what you pay for”. Cost and quality do no longer have to be at odds with each other. You can have high quality goods and services at low cost if you have efficient systems and process in place and if you have well trained and motivated staff.

Many private sector companies strive to set themselves apart from the competition and gain a market edge by delivering high quality customer services. Organisations like Marks and Spencer are well known for this. Whilst their prices might be slightly higher than other high street chain stores many people are prepared to pay a little more for the quality and levels of customer care they provide.

In public services we do not operate in the kind of commercial environment that drives up quality and drives down cost. In many cases our customers do not have any choice but to use our services and yet the pressure to become more efficient and increase quality, choice and personalisation are just as pressing.

In Tameside we understand that first impressions count. Each year most of our residents will contact the council at some point and in doing so the way they are treated, the standards of customer care and the quality of the outcomes they receive will influence their perception of the council as a whole.

This is why we aim to put the customer at the heart of all that we do. “Think Customer” is the starting point for the Tameside transformational model. Putting the customer at the heart of service development and delivery is a fundamental underlining principle of our Transformation Strategy.

Whilst other benefits such as efficiency and effectiveness gains are also key objectives, ensuring that we are delivering high quality services, developed around the needs of the customer and not the council. Delivering better outcomes for individuals is central to our vision.

There will inevitably be occasions when we do fail to meet a customer’s expectations and it is therefore, vital that we continue to have a consistent and responsive approach to dealing with complaints. Every complaint is an opportunity to right a wrong, it’s an opportunity to learn how we might do things better in the future and it’s an opportunity to turn a disaffected customer into an advocate for the council.

The Customer Contact and Care strategy is a living document which will provide the direction and focus for all areas of the organisation to work together in helping achieve great lives and excellent services. This strategy builds on earlier work and as a result we are already in the enviable position of being widely recognised as one of the leading local authority practitioners in this field1. However, if we are to maintain and build upon this reputation, we must continue to develop and improve the way we deal with our customers.

Personalisation and Customer Empowerment

Customers’ expectations and needs have changed. People are taking more control over what services they want and how they are delivered. More and more people are using the internet to purchase goods and services and this has already had a profound impact on the high street. A few years ago we saw Insurance Brokers and Travel Agents acting as middlemen in most of our towns and yet now they are becoming fewer in number as more business is done directly between the customer and the company online. The Internet has made access to many services ubiquitous, with huge choice driving down prices and the convenience of doing it all from the comfort of their home and a time that suits them.

This means that, if we are to keep pace with changing expectations, we must better understand our customers. We must plan and deliver our services in ways that make sense to them, and through channels that are convenient for them.

Customer Insight

Much of the service transformation agenda is predicated on the council being capable of exploiting and sharing information between its own services and between its partners. Effective use of information also underpins the successful delivery of the Community Strategy and Local Area Agreement.

The key objective is to use information in a timely and effective way to improve our understanding of citizens and businesses, their needs and aspirations and to optimise the design and delivery of services.

The information required may relate to citizens and businesses at an individual or statistical level (gathered through a variety of consultation methods such as surveys and focus groups or through analysis of transaction data); however, other contextual information on their social, economic or environmental circumstances may also be valuable in building up a picture. There are important challenges, including that of gathering relevant information on those people who are most excluded from using the public services.

The adoption of existing tools and techniques such as Customer Insight Protocol, Citizen Profiling and Customer Journey Mapping will help bring a consistency in the data we collect and the resultant improvement we make to service design.

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping is the process of tracking and describing all of the experiences that customers have as they encounter a service or set of services, taking into account not only what happens to them, but also their own personal responses to that experience. Understanding both the physical and emotional journeys that our customers must navigate in order to access our services is crucial and if used well, it can reveal opportunities for improvement and innovation, acting as a strategic tool to ensure every interaction with our customers is as positive as it can be.

Customer Centric Service Delivery

In many cases services deal with customers in a one-to-one relationship without appreciating how other council services may also be appropriate. This silo based provider approach is designed around the organisation’s structure and convenience and does not support effective alignment of resources or reflect our residents’ and service users’ own needs and circumstances.

Different customer groups will experience the council in different ways. They will use different clusters of services at different times in their own and their families lives. At a point in time some will use schools and may use some social services, they may also use leisure and library facilities. Businesses, on the other hand, will be interested in quite a different “slice” of council services – business development, economic regeneration, advice.

The customer might reasonably expect the service to be joined up. Tesco can anticipate the needs of their different customer groups by scrutinising the profile of spending patterns. Amazon, the online bookstore, will offer a similar approach when they say, “customers who bought this also bought this…”.

The traditional professional-silo approach to local government services has not, until now, lent itself to an “integrated offer”. Technological changes and the growing awareness of customer perspectives have made possible what was previously neither practical nor cost effective.

The essence of the approach is about creating a set of customer experiences which enable the more effective delivery of council services by:

  1. Understanding the cluster of services used by key groups: young people, older people, families, businesses, visitors
  2. Creating a technological platform that enables services delivering services to each key group to share an understanding of the “offer”
  3. Creating the culture and environment whereby those services that deliver the “offer” can release the “added value”
  4. Developing a performance management framework for transformation that enables the council to check and monitor its progress towards delivering the “added value” services driving failure out of our systems

In essence, transformation is a technological and cultural overlay that allows the collective sharing of a “community of interest” in order to provide a joined up, holistic service.

What we will do

  • Use Customer Journey Mapping to ensure that services are better designed around customer needs and convenience.
  • Continue to develop the use of customer insight across the organisation to ensure that service design and location is founded on data and introduce where possible technical standards such as local land and property gazetteer to help with the consistency and data matching.
  • Introduce consistent processes for collecting insight such as the Customer Insight protocol to measure satisfaction.
  • Sign Post and where possible join services together, based around people’s lives and needs, not around the organisation’s structure.
  • Further develop the “Tell Us Once” project to better orchestrate the council’s response to bereavement.
  • Develop a citizen portal which will provide personalised access to council services.

Efficiency and Effectiveness

If we are to be a truly customer focused organisation, alongside developing and delivering services from the customers perspective, we must also recognise that our customer’s own time is valuable and comes with a cost.

Avoidable Contact

Alongside the already established measures including volume, satisfaction, costs and quality, a key new measure as to the effectiveness of our customer contact and care will be through the new National Indicator for reducing avoidable contact (NI14).

By putting in place a common system to identify and record each individual customer contact with the council, regardless of where or how the contact was made, and then recording whether the contact was unnecessary we can begin to understand and then deal with services, systems and processes that are generating avoidable contact. This will reduce failure demand, increase first point of contact resolution and release resources that were dealing with low value unnecessary contacts to work on added value contacts instead.

Channel Shift

60% of Tameside residents now have access to the internet. For many people regardless of their age, background or ethnicity using the world wide web for any number of activities is becoming the norm. This presents the council with an opportunity to use technology through the council website to deliver transactional services at much reduced cost.

The Free Schools Meals project has demonstrated that traditional paper based benefit processes can be radically transformed. The same technology can be used across a number of access channels providing greater choice; it can deliver better outcomes for the applicant and efficiency savings for the organisation with application processing costs reducing from around £25 per application to 6p for each self service online application. Through a targeted marketing campaign we were also able to significantly increase the number of people who used the internet as their channel of choice.

Whilst maintaining and investing in all of the 3 primary customer facing delivery channels, it not only makes economic sense to deliver more services via the Internet, it is also increasingly becoming the access channel of choice for a growing number of our citizens. However in increasing the amount of business we do online we must ensure that services via this method are efficient and effective, linking whenever possible directly into back office systems and not just e-veneers which simple mask an inefficient back office process.

What we will do

  • Introduce the council’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) stats collection system in all areas of the council that deal directly with customers.
  • By analysing complaints information along with NI14 data we will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of front line service delivery by reducing failure demand
  • Continue to invest in the website and associated technology, developing CRM and increasing integration with back office systems.
  • Continue to promote the Internet as the channel of choice for those who can access services online.
  • Continue to maintain and improve our face to face service for those that require assistance.

Moving Services to the Front Office

The Council has an established, well managed and high performing call centre and face to face customer service. That said less than 35% of public contacts currently come through these channels. The majority of contacts continue to be dealt with directly with the back office services. Moving more of these contacts forward will help to ensure that the public receive a consistent high quality service. There are already a number of areas where progress has been made and the customer facing contact is being changed;

  • The dedicated Planning reception is closing and the function is being merged into the mainstream Customer Services function.
  • A Planning “Golden Number” is now in place to deal with specialist planning call centre queries.
  • Adult Social Care Blue Badge process is being redesigned so it can be delivered through the main customer service centres.
  • Free School Meals application process moved from the back office and now available through Customer Services, Call Centre and Internet
  • Registrars appointment booking moving to Call Centre and Internet

More work is needed to identify other customer touch points, either on the phone or face to face, to ensure that they are moved to the front line if appropriate or if it is not appropriate, to ensure that the back office works to the same standards, using the same technology and with appropriately trained staff. The recording of all public facing contacts as part of the NI14 Avoidable Contact work will help to identify areas where large volumes of contacts are occurring. In simple terms this means that all back office services that continue to deliver a front facing service must;

  • All use the CRM system to collect statistics and enable insight to be exploited
  • Telephone contact must be via the Contact Centre system and Golden Numbers
  • Web pages must be kept up to date using CMS system.
  • All staff involved in direct contact with the customer to complete ICS training.

In moving services to the front line a key principle needs to be established so that funding also moves to where the service is being provided.

Effective hand-off points are critical to the functioning of all areas dealing with customer enquiries and service requests. Clearly defined hand-off points will ensure the transfer of work between the front and back office is effective and a clear distinction between front office and back office responsibilities is made. There are three primary hand-off methods. These are:

  • One & Done – These enquiries can be resolved at the first point of contact and no further escalations are required. This will apply to the vast majority of enquiries from both face-to-face, Internet and telephone channels. The level of interaction between the front and back office is one of the following:
    • No interaction – e.g. All information was provided through the Intranet/ Internet.
    • Front Office has the back office system installed on their desktop e.g. Pericles.
    • Front Office has access to the back office system via the CRM system which is integrated into the back office system e.g. Refuse
  • Fire and Forget – The enquiry cannot be resolved at the first point of contact and requires escalation to a specialist in the subject area. The enquiry is passed over to the appropriate back office, no further action is required by the front office, and from their point of view the enquiry is complete.
  • Customer Advocate – The enquiry cannot be resolved at the first point of contact, and requires escalation to a specialist in the subject area. The enquiry is passed over to the appropriate back office. The enquiry is still tracked by the front office, which monitors progress, ensuring it is completed within satisfactory timescales, and keeps the customer informed. The enquiry is not considered complete by the front office until it is completely resolved.

What we will do

  • We will continue to identify and move customer contacts from the back office to the front office.
  • Where it is not appropriate to move, we will ensure that the correct technology and staff training is in place to deliver a consistent high quality service.
  • For each transaction being dealt with by the mediated channels, the method and point of hand-off must be determined within the agreed common process.

Front Office Shared Services (FOSS)

If we are to design and deliver great, not just good services around the needs of our customers we must also consider how we bring together services from the wider public sector in a way that is more convenient, can add more value and is also more cost effective.

Face-to-face services which include those delivered through the customer service centres, as well as home visits, have developed in local and central government mainly independently of each other, despite having customers in common. They largely focused on providing a service bounded by the host organisation’s remit, irrespective of the customers’ needs or any customer confusion these boundaries could cause. Often there are a number of public sector face-to-face outlets in the same area dealing with the same customers. This provides an opportunity to rationalise their numbers so that services are both better for the customer and cheaper for the taxpayer.

Whilst we continue to invest and develop the cheaper delivery channels such as the telephone and Internet, we also recognise that we must retain and develop the more expensive face-to-face contact for those that really need it. These people are typically low paid or unemployed, with access only to a pay-as-you- go mobile phone and limited access to transport. The most vulnerable users often have language difficulties, or a disability so that they need support to navigate through the processes designed to help them. These customers deserve better than the current fragmented approach offers.

The responsibility for delivering different services across local authorities and different government departments can be confusing for the service user. When a customer becomes unemployed, that one life event can trigger contacts with, at a minimum, three different service providers who all ask for the same information. Not only does this mean that government is duplicating requests for the same set of information and evidence verification, with an opportunity to reduce costs overall for the taxpayer, it can also mean that the customer has to chase progress several times. This adds to avoidable contact, which currently increases costs substantially.

Tameside, through its chairing of the Local Government Delivery Council, is working with the Department for Works and Pensions and Department for Communities and Local Government on a nationwide approach to rationalising government high street assets and delivering pan government services through a common shared front office. The face-to-face work stream was commissioned by the Delivery Council in 2007 and will deliver a Blueprint for face-to-face services in the future, and a new performance management frame work for face-to-face and a number of best practice exemplar projects across the country.

It is necessary to move customers to low cost web based and telephone services, whilst retaining more expensive face-to-face contact for those needing them. To make these face-to-face contacts cost effective, the strategy will look at introducing greater partnership working and shared delivery.

We will build on the successes that are already in place such as;

  • The Joint Pensions Team which is a combination of Pensions Service and Tameside staff based in Ryecroft Hall who provide a home visiting service for older people to advice on Pension and other related benefits.
  • The DWP Alternative Office scheme whereby council customer services staff validate DWP benefit applications making it easier for the customer and reducing the risk that applications have errors or omissions in them.
  • The Police co-locate their local stations alongside council customer service centres in various locations including Stalybridge and Denton

Surveys with existing customers have been completed and the services that people would most like to see delivered within our customer service centres are:

  • Pensions Service
  • Tax Office
  • NCHT
  • CAB
  • Police
  • Job Centre+

Branding and Marketing

Whilst Customer First, In Touch Tameside and the council’s website have already strong recognisable branding, with corporate uniforms, colours and a common look and feel, the different names can be confusing to the customer. The situation will become more confused as we begin to deliver joint services with other partners and agencies. It is therefore, important that this situation is reviewed to bring all the service delivery channels into a common theme and branding style and the feasibility of introducing a new “Service Tameside” concept considered.

What we will do

  • We will work with other public service providers to develop a joint front office shared service offering, which can be delivered through the existing customer service centres and through home visits.
  • We will continue to work with IDeA on developing the national FOSS project.
  • We will continue to work with the Department for Works and Pensions and Department for Communities and Local Government on the national face-to-face work stream project.
  • We will Investigate the feasibility of introducing a new “Service Tameside” concept to help ensure that all points of customer contact are branded in a consistent manner to maximise association with the Council and its partners and to minimise confusion.

People Skills

Building Capability and Capacity are one of the key themes in the Tameside Transformation model. Investing and developing our staff’s customer services and business improvement skills is just as essential as investing and developing in new technologies and delivery models. Only by doing both, can we deliver excellent cost effective services that meet our customers’ needs and expectations.

Customer Services Excellence Standard (CSE)

Tameside was the first metropolitan borough council to achieve corporate Charter Mark standard in 2007. As the replacement for Charter Mark the aim of the Customer Service Excellence Standard is to encourage, enable and reward organisations that are delivering services based on a genuine understanding of the needs and preferences of their customers and communities, something which Tameside has demonstrated through its commitment and ability to put the customer at the heart of everything it does.

The standard works on four levels – as a driver of continuous improvement, as a tool for developing skills, as an independently assessed means of validating achievement and as a way to capture best practice and feed lessons back to the centre. As a Standard Bearer for the scheme Tameside will be an early adopter, making the transition to the new standard in Autumn 2008.

Institute of Customer Services Programme (ICS)

Ensuring that front line staff have the right skills to deliver excellent customer care is vitally important and because of this the council has been a Member Council of the Institute of Customer Services (ICS) since April 2004 and has been operating the Professional awards scheme successfully ever since. The council is also an accredited assessment centre for the awards.

Currently over 104 front line staff have achieved the ICS Bronze or Silver standard. Through the customer contact data being collected as part of the NI14 avoidable contact project, we will be able to identify all areas of the organisation that have a public facing customer service element to their business. Where these contacts cannot be moved to the professional front office, we will ensure that the back office staff who continue to deliver front facing public contacts also achieve the award. This investment in training ensures that our staff have the right skills to deliver high quality customer care.

Services across the council are currently being ranked in order of priority, where all staff will have to achieve the standard. This will complement our existing competency framework.

During 2008, to widen the take-up of customer care training, ICS First Impressions scheme will be introduced. Along side this, the Continual Professional Development for dedicated front line staff will also be established.

Beacon: Transforming Services through Customer Engagement & Empowerment

Tameside was awarded Beacon Status for Transforming Services in 2008. The award recognises that across all areas of the council we are effectively engaging with stakeholders to help shape and deliver better services and better outcomes for all our communities. During the Beacon year (2008/9) alongside disseminating our experiences to other local authorities across the country, which we are doing in partnership with the 2 other Beacon councils (Chorley DC and Staffordshire Moorlands DC) we will also ensure that best practice is showcased across our organisation helping to bring a consistency to our approach to citizen engagement and empowerment, as well as further improve the practical application.

What we will do

  • During 2008 we will make the transition from Charter Mark to the new Customer Service Excellence standard.
  • Ensure that all staff delivering a front facing customer service function are involved in the ICS training programme.
  • Develop an organisational wide approach to ICS training, involving the professional awards and First Impressions scheme where appropriate.
  • Develop a programme of dissemination for the Beacon Scheme that will showcase best practice for internal staff and the wider local government sector.

Customer Complaints

Most successful organisations have recognised the important role that high levels of customer care and satisfaction have in maintaining and growing their business. Using feedback and complaints as a strategic tool to improve services and retain customers is an important element of this.

However, having an excellent process for dealing with dissatisfied customers is no guarantee of success on its own. Current examples in the retail sector highlight the need to back up high levels of customer care with high quality value for money services, good marketing and an innovative and creative approach to developing the business. Growing any business means you must create an environment and culture that enables the retention of existing customers whilst also attracting new ones.

This point can be illustrated by comparing Tesco with Marks and Spencer. Tesco have an excellent no quibble exchange policy, which in most cases the customer, receives either replacement goods, or a full refund. Marks and Spencer customer care is legendary, with a similar refund policy on foodstuffs and a simple no fuss return process for clothes and other goods.

Yet recent financial results show that 1 in every 5 pounds spent in a supermarket is spent in Tesco.

Over recent years Tesco have been at the forefront of retail innovation, they were the first to seriously launch Internet shopping, they were the first to launch customer loyalty cards, but they have not rested on their laurels, they have continued to reinvent themselves, expanding their business from primarily groceries into Insurance, finance, clothing, telecommunications and electrical goods.

From a Tameside perspective there are three key areas that we must focus on:

  • Continued development, and improvement with the way we deal with our customers, handle their problems and learn from the feedback they give us.
  • Underpin our customer service with consistent high quality, value for money services.
  • Introduce innovation, creativity into the way we deliver services to ensure we remain ahead of the game.
  • Across all services we must understand and analyse complaints information to ensure that we learn lessons and change systems and processes accordingly.

Complaints Process

The existing Corporate Complaints System currently operates within a 2-stage process. Once a complaint has been allocated to the appropriate officer to be dealt with, they have 5 working days to deal with the issue and close the complaint, or to send an interim response to the customer, if the problem is likely to take some time to resolve.

If the complainant is not happy with either the response given or timescales for resolution, they can escalate the complaint to the second stage. At this point the issues are dealt with by the appropriate Assistant Chief Executive, Assistant Executive Director or Head of Service directly who must respond within 20 working days.

In a small number of circumstances, where people are still not happy with the response they have received, they can then take their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, upon which the process for dealing with the issues is passed over to Legal Services to coordinate. In a small number of cases people may also complain in the first instance to the Ombudsman, bypassing the corporate process. These premature Ombudsman complaints are then added to the corporate system as a stage 1 complaint with the appropriate senior officer responsible for dealing with the issues in conjunction with Legal Services. All of these complaints are followed up after 12 weeks by the Ombudsman to ensure we have dealt with the issue appropriately.

The only exceptions to the above is when a complaint has been logged onto the corporate system and it is then identified as being a Social Care and Health Statutory complaint. Where this is the case, the process and timescales for dealing with the issues fall within a different set of rules.

The Statutory process operates within a 3-stage process. The officer responsible has 10 working days to respond, as opposed to the 5 working days in the corporate process, where stage 2 is required, an external investigator is appointed and has up to 56 working days to respond, then in some cases stage 3 can be invoked which requires a panel to meet to recommend actions to the Director of Social Services, this process having to be complete within a further 56 working days.

Once identified as a statutory complaint, the process of managing and monitoring the complaint passes from the corporate complaints service to the complaints monitoring officer in Adult Services.

What we will do

  • Ensure that all services understand and analyse complaints information to ensure that we learn lessons and change systems and processes accordingly
  • Continued development, and improvement with the way we deal with our customers, handle their problems and learn from the feedback they give us.
  • Underpin our customer service with consistent, high quality, value for money services.

Guiding Principles

The key fundamental guiding principles of this strategy and what we are striving to achieve are:

  • Corporate front office, with one identity
  • Personalisation based around customer needs
  • Self Service for those who can
  • One stop approach by moving more services to the front office
  • Over 80% first time resolution with minimal avoidable contact
  • Choice of access channels
  • Convenient opening hours
  • Proactive customer relationship management
  • Publicised service standards
  • Better use of information, knowledge and customer insight
  • Effective performance management including failure demand
  • Appropriately trained and motivated staff eg ICS accredited
  • Front office to act as an advocate for the customer.
  • Corporate complaints system, independent from the back office.
  • Joining up Services in a way that makes sense to people
  • Effective customer profiling
  • Customer Journey mapping
  • Promoting channel migration to most cost effective channels where appropriate
  • Increasing Front Office Shared Services (FOSS) with our partners
  • Adopting corporate standards of customer service

Links to other Strategies

Because Customer Services touches all parts of the council it will also have clear links to many of the other strategies and initiatives undertaken across the council and across our partnerships. High quality customer contact and care underpins our delivery of the Community Strategy. Elements of the Customer Contact and Care Strategy will need to be reflected in the;

  • Human Resources Strategy in terms of new staffing competencies, capabilities and capacity.
  • Organisation Development Strategy in terms of the leadership programme and cultural change agenda.
  • ICT Strategy to ensure that the council’s technology plans are aligned to the requirements of transformed customer services, increased self service via the website and other key tools such as CRM and Knowledge Management.
  • eTameside Strategy to link and engage with partners across the LSP and the wider community including business.
  • Transformation Strategy will need to reflect the changing relationship between consumer and provider and ensuring that services are delivered in the most appropriate and cost effective way.

Page last updated: 14 February 2011