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Sutton LBC has searched far and wide to give technology a user-friendly face, says John Grice ...
Sutton LBC has searched far and wide to give technology a user-friendly face, says John Grice

Governments everywhere are embarking on large-scale programmes of modernising the way they provide services to the public, with the use of digital tools and technology firmly at the heart of their strategies. It is part of the concerted drive to have all government agencies online by the year 2005 in the UK.

The accelerating global trend towards implementing e-government is introducing multiple channels and greater complexity in customer interaction and a CRM strategy is now seen as a necessary response to manage this. Nowhere more so than at Sutton LBC, which is using Peregrine Systems' Remedy Citizen Response - a CRM tool for government organisations - to transform its operations.

Such technologies need to be implemented at speed to accommodate rapid growth and shifting citizen demands, automating service processes across government departments and providing closed-loop resolution to customers' queries and issues. Most importantly, it needs to help governments to reinvent the way the public sector and citizens communicate, making government more open, available and user-friendly.

Sutton LBC provides services to some 180,000 community members and, like other councils, has to meet its e-government targets. As part of that process, it wanted the most effective approach possible to the provision of a contact centre and support service, initially for the council's highways and waste management division.

Prior to the selection, the borough had an existing call centre in place where requests were logged in to a Microsoft template which was then printed off and passed along to the relevant support service. Unfortunately, there were a number of system limitations, including the inability to verify the status of outstanding issues or view a complete history of customer interaction. Furthermore, there was no back-office integration.

With the new technology, the council now has the means to respond and track a vast range of issues, suggestions and requests for information and service, whether they are submitted by telephone, in person, letter, e-mail or the web - all at internet speed - to deliver outstanding service at a low cost to the taxpayer. Citizen Response also makes it fast and convenient to log and track citizen issues, suggestions and requests for information, ensuring all requests are handled in a timely manner and in compliance with regulations.

The planning of the CRM programme took into account the council's need for a quick implementation of the solution and easy integration with the existing system. It took a phased approach by introducing each measure step by step. Initially, the Remedy Citizen Response solution was only to be introduced to the highways and waste management division, before being extended to other council services such as the leadership office, housing, council tax and housing benefit.

Also, the ease and flexibility of the solution meant the council did not have to pay expensive consultancy fees. They began by setting up a call centre pilot study and then researched the best time to introduce the programme in conjunction with LDA, the call centre consultant. The final stage was to test the solution with the staff. In total, implementation took just eight weeks. Crucially, the Citizen Response solution has brought together the borough's disparate existing systems. This has enabled customer support staff to view the entire history and consequent actions of a customer's complaint.

The implementation of Peregrine's software has also improved the staff's approach to customer relations. Call centre staff are now in possession of more information on the history of customer problems. This is due to the integration of their records which detail complete telephone, mail and e-mail contact history. As a result, staff have more time to resolve issues, rather than researching the background to a problem.

The programme has given staff more credibility and empowered them to solve issues and close calls. It has created a seamless interface between those taking the call and those carrying out the request.

Since the implementation, the percentage of calls answered has consistently been above 95%. Meanwhile, the breadth and vision of the CRM programme has been recognised by the Cabinet Office, which has granted a prestigious charter mark to the council, while the wide-ranging success of the solution is further attested to by the plan to introduce Citizen Response into other areas.

Now that Peregrine's solution has been introduced, there has been considerable interest from other departments.

Now the council is planning to utilise the same technology to build upon its success, with council tax, housing benefit and anti-fraud claims the next focus in its ambitious sights on the path to e-government excellence.

John Grice

Executive head of customer services, Sutton LBC

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