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Lewisham LBC has used drama-based training to help it provide a consistently high level of customer service across ...
Lewisham LBC has used drama-based training to help it provide a consistently high level of customer service across all of its directorates. After working with Steps Drama, the drama-based training specialist, to bring customer service to life at a

series of conferences for frontline staff, the council is now planning

to incorporate drama into its management development.

'In the past, it has been difficult to provide a consistent level of

customer service throughout the authority because people work in

different areas, in different circumstances,' said Sharon Wilkins,

manager of LB Lewisham's Front Line Academy, a virtual group

which runs change initiatives for front line staff. 'Residents,

however, see the council as one organisation, so it is important that

our service level is the same across all directorates.'

To provide guidance on what is expected of staff, 18

representatives from the Front Line Academy, in consultation with

colleagues, devised a set of corporate customer service standards

that could be adopted across the council and promoted to

customers as a 'promise' of good service, regardless of which

service they access or whether they make contact face-to-face or

via the telephone.

The standards include eight service principles relating to behaviour -

such as being respectful, courteous and sensitive to individual

needs - as well as three more traditional performance promises.

'We decided to launch these standards at a conference for our front

line staff,' said Ms Wilkins. 'We approached Steps Drama

because we wanted to bring alive the standards and get the

message across in a way that engaged staff. Steps Drama

understand learning and development and they've got a lot of

experience of working with local authorities.'

The one-day conference was held at the borough council's civic

suite. Around 130 front line staff attended, filling the capacity of the


The Steps Drama session ran for an hour and three quarters.

Three actor-facilitators role played a range of customer service

scenarios, highlighting difficult customer service interactions and the

rationale for introducing a set of standards that apply to everyone.

'With Steps Drama, the interactive nature of their work is very

entertaining and the quality of their delivery is always excellent,' said

Ms Wilkins. 'Feedback showed that the conference was a

great success. If we'd just sent out leaflets saying these are the

customer service standards you have to live by, people would've

been less inclined to take the messages on board. Because staff

had an opportunity to contribute and discuss the points raised in the

Steps Drama scenarios, they bought into the reasons why the

customer service standards were needed.'

The conference proved so successful that the managers of

Lewisham's Call Point (corporate call centre) and Access Point

(one-stop shop for customers) asked Steps Drama to run a similar

session for all of their staff at their annual departmental conference.

Steps Drama ran two one-hour slots at the event and nearly 200

people attended.

While Steps Drama were preparing the workshop for the Front Line

Academy conference, the council asked them to help with a

recruitment exercise.

A new-style assessment day had been arranged, as part of the

process of recruiting customer-facing staff in the Call Point and

Access Point services. The idea was to filter down 200 applicants

using communications exercises, an observation exercise and a

written skills test.

Steps Drama worked with the council and two actors delivered a

range of scenarios, making deliberate customer service mistakes, in

a face-to-face environment. These scenarios were filmed by the

council's in-house communications unit, who then produced a

seven-minute video.

The council took over a theatre in Lewisham for two days, for the

assessments. The video was screened to 100 applicants per day

and each had to write down the points of poor service they noticed.

'Some of the deliberate mistakes made were very funny and others

were very subtle,' said Ms Wilkins. 'The assessment process

helped to weed out unsuitable candidates and those who were

successful went through to the interview stage.'

Lewisham LBC is currently in discussion with

Steps Drama about two additional customer service events for its

Social Care & Health and Education & Culture directorates. It is

also considering including drama-based learning in the customer

focus module of its management development programme.

Abi George, Lewisham's head of service development, said:

'The customer service initiatives have already helped us to become

more effective and more focussed. Publishing our standards has

raised the public's expectations about our service. The challenge

now is to ensure we deliver a high level of satisfaction.'

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