Representatives from Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Melton Borough Councils, associates and industry professionals recently attended our local government roundtable ‘Delivering More for Less: Meeting Citizen Needs in Times of Austerity’.
All attendees were passionate about improving citizen services and brought with them a wealth of experience and knowledge which resulted in lively and engaging discussions.
The event itself was born out of a piece of independent market research commissioned by Serco Consulting which looked into how important improving the customer experience is to local authorities when re-designing services (findings from this research will be published shortly). Discussions centred around ways in which councils could adopt a more progressive approach to service delivery and become more resilient to the continued challenges of reducing cost, whilst managing expectations from customers’ demanding improvements on service quality and delivery.
Key discussion points included the need for service areas to shift their focus away from achieving service level agreements and towards the desired outcomes of the customer. Moving contact centres away from the pitfalls of a transactional approach to dealing with customers, and instead taking time to understand their issue. An example of best practice given was the response of a father calling the ‘Talk to Frank’ drug helpline where the call handler spent time talking through the various options, and at the end of the call the father cried and said, “You have really given me hope for the future”. This part of the service delivery is not measured but is often the most valued by the customer.
Another topic was the benefit of councils working more collaboratively with public sector agencies and third sector organisations to achieve common goals. Lynn Aisbett, chief executive of Melton BC explained how the council’s headquarters being destroyed by a fire, led to the co-location of services and innovative working practices to the benefit of the local community. The Council now shares its services with 16 partnering organisations who all work together to deliver the best possible outcome for the customer. One measure of success that Lynn is particularly proud of is how the new integrated team successfully secured employment for an individual who had been unemployed for 22 years, and had already been through a government ‘back to work’ scheme which had failed him.
Our industry experts also pointed out the failings of presuming to know what citizens want without involving them in the service re-design process. In one example given a council had decided to speed up its benefits process so that claimants could receive their benefits with an hour of making the claim. However, to the council’s surprise feedback showed that the revised process put too much pressure on the customers to gather the information and documents required in an hour and they would actually prefer to wait 48 hours for an appointment.
Tackling the culture of service lines silos was also raised as an issue. It was suggested that councils should actively encourage their staff to think differently about service delivery by breaking down internal barriers. One council undertook a team building initiative to do just this, sending cross service line teams out into the community with video cameras to find out what local people wanted and pitch one change to one service area in a ‘Dragons Den’ style format. This process helped to break down barriers between different departments, energise staff and got them to think about their customer.
Through our recent survey results we found that cost is usually the main driver for changes to service delivery, and although improving the customer experience is clearly important to councils, it is difficult to make a case for change around this basis. To help overcome this obstacle of uncertainty, our local government experts recommend that you start with something small on a trial basis, monitor the impact on those customers and then you have a story to tell and can build your case for change. There was also widespread agreement that people were often one of the biggest obstacles to change and that the best way to overcome this was to start change in one team, then another and then another.
Thank you to all who participated in our roundtable discussion. If you would like to find out more about our work in local government click here.