The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star out of a possible three, because although the council has developed a customer services policy it is not being applied consistently throughout its services. The council is however responsive in handling formal complaints, dealing with emergencies and assisting customers who come to them through the traditional channels.
'Currently in most instances customers access Lincolnshire CC services through traditional means, mainly limited to a five day working week, with enquiries being passed to individual departments. The standard of service customers receive is variable. We are pleased to see that the council is modernising by improving telephone and web access and extending operating hours.'
The inspectors found:
* Although the council has a vision on how it wants to interface with customers through a recently introduced corporate customer service policy there is no consistent performance monitoring within the services which gauges the extent to which the policy is being met corporately.
* Initial contact with frontline services is inconsistent. The front-of-house is organised by different departments and customer experiences are varied. There are different levels of access to services and no measurement of how reliable services are.
* Councillors and senior officers are committed to moving from fragmented to more modern and corporate access to services and substantial funds are in place to allow this.
* The council is now focused on improving telephone access, which it established as a priority through consultation. It has set up four customer access telephone centre pilots with longer operating hours and has improved the website. There is also a sound modernisation implementation pl an in place to roll out customer access centres throughout the council's services.
* The council has taken some steps to integrate improvements to frontline services into day-to-day management including the new customer services and complaints policies and the launch of the CHOICE initiative for its entire staff.
* There are some risks to the council delivering improvements including uncertainties about how the council will improve face-to-face contact with customers and the length of time it will take to embed standards throughout the organisation.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
* Continue partnership working with district councils and other agencies and ensure this leads to tangible improvements for residents wishing to access services on a face to face basis throughout the county.
* The council needs to establish and fill skills gaps with existing staff relative to the needs of customer services and address any resulting staff issues such as re-deployment.
* Review existing customer contact points and rationalise these in relation to planned customer service needs.
The council's review of frontline services (called 'Frontline First') covered all access channels available to the public including 59 reception points within various buildings and 277 telephone points. It also included electronic access.