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Councils urged to merge customer contact teams

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IT managers in local government have called on councils to bring front-office customer contact arrangements under a central management team.

Their organisation Socitm has published a report, Better served: customer access, efficiency and channel shift, which notes that, traditionally, planning, social services and other departments manage their own customers.

The report calls for a comprehensive enquiry and service data across all such services to manage enquiries more efficiently and identify scope for improvement.

It identifies three areas where change would reap benefits:

  • Greater efficiency in handling contacts by introducing professional customer service approaches and common standards
  • Reduction in ‘avoidable contacts’
  • Shifting of enquiries from relatively high-cost channels (phone, mail and face-to-face) to cheaper channels (typically the council website).

Socitm president Jos Creese said the report gave “real insight” into how front-line delivery could be reshaped to protect service quality and reduce cost.

“What is recommended is not without risk, but the pace and depth of public sector cuts and reform requires a radical rethink about how we design and deliver services,” he said.

The report found few councils able to produce comprehensive customer enquiry data. Examples of good practice were:

  • Birmingham City Council anticipates £197.4m of cashable benefits over 10 years as part of its programme of council-wide transformation
  • Tameside MBC aims to save £1m over the next four years from better management of the front office
  • Surrey CC reduced cost of phone and web contacts from 79p to 49p per enquiry since 2007.
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